Archive for Approximate Bayesian computation

patterns of scalable Bayesian inference

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2016 by xi'an

Elaine Angelino, Matthew Johnson and Ryan Adams just arXived a massive survey of 118 pages on scalable Bayesian inference, which could have been entitled Bayes for Big Data, as this monograph covers state-of-the-art computational approaches to large and complex data structures. I did not read each and every line of it, but I have already recommended it to my PhD students. Some of its material unsurprisingly draws from the recent survey by Rémi Bardenet et al. (2015) I discussed a while ago. It also relates rather frequently to the somewhat parallel ICML paper of Korattikara et al. (2014). And to the firefly Monte Carlo procedure also discussed previously here.

Chapter 2 provides some standard background on computational techniques, Chapter 3 covers MCMC with data subsets, Chapter 4 gives some entries on MCMC with parallel and distributed architectures, Chapter 5 focus on variational solutions, and Chapter 6 is about open questions and challenges.

“Insisting on zero asymptotic bias from Monte Carlo estimates of expectations may leave us swamped in errors from high variance or transient bias.”

One central theme of the paper is the need for approximate solutions, MCMC being perceived as the exact solution. (Somewhat wrongly in the sense that the product of an MCMC is at best an empirical version of the true posterior, hence endowed with a residual and incompressible variation for a given computing budget.) While Chapter 3 stresses the issue of assessing the distance to the true posterior, it does not dwell at all on computing times and budget, which is arguably a much harder problem. Chapter 4 seems to be more aware of this issue since arguing that “a way to use parallel computing resources is to run multiple sequential MCMC algorithms at once [but that this] does not reduce the transient bias in MCMC estimates of posterior expectations” (p.54). The alternatives are to use either prefetching (which was the central theme of Elaine Angelino’s thesis), asynchronous Gibbs with the new to me (?) Hogwild Gibbs algorithms (connected in Terenin et al.’s recent paper, not quoted in the paper), some versions of consensus Monte Carlo covered in earlier posts, the missing links being in my humble opinion an assessment of the worth of those solutions (in the spirit of “here’s the solution, what was the problem again?”) and once again the computing time issue. Chapter 5 briefly discusses some recent developments in variational mean field approximations, which is farther from my interests and (limited) competence, but which appears as a particular class of approximate models and thus could (and should?) relate to likelihood-free methods. Chapter 6 about the current challenges of the field is presumably the most interesting in this monograph in that it produces open questions and suggests directions for future research. For instance, opposing the long term MCMC error with the short term transient part. Or the issue of comparing different implementations in a practical and timely perspective.

Je reviendrai à Montréal [D-2]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2015 by xi'an

I have spent the day and more completing and compiling slides for my contrapuntal perspective on probabilistic numerics, back in Montréal, for the NIPS 2015 workshop of December 11 on this theme. As I presume the kind  invitation by the organisers was connected with my somewhat critical posts on the topic, I mostly  The day after, while I am flying back to London for the CFE (Computational and Financial Econometrics) workshop, somewhat reluctantly as there will be another NIPS workshop that day on scalable Monte Carlo.

Je veux revoir le long désert
Des rues qui n’en finissent pas
Qui vont jusqu’au bout de l’hiver
Sans qu’il y ait trace de pas

Je reviendrai à Montréal [NIPS 2015]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2015 by xi'an

I will be back in Montréal, as the song by Robert Charlebois goes, for the NIPS 2015 meeting there, more precisely for the workshops of December 11 and 12, 2015, on probabilistic numerics and ABC [à Montréal]. I was invited to give the first talk by the organisers of the NIPS workshop on probabilistic numerics, presumably to present a contrapuntal perspective on this mix of Bayesian inference with numerical issues, following my somewhat critical posts on the topic. And I also plan to attend some lectures in the (second) NIPS workshop on ABC methods. Which does not leave much free space for yet another workshop on Approximate Bayesian Inference! The day after, while I am flying back to London, there will be a workshop on scalable Monte Carlo. All workshops are calling for contributed papers to be presented during central poster sessions. To be submitted to abcinmontreal@gmail.com and to probnum@gmail.com and to aabi2015. Before October 16.

Funny enough, I got a joking email from Brad, bemoaning my traitorous participation to the workshop on probabilistic numerics because of its “anti-MCMC” agenda, reflected in the summary:

“Integration is the central numerical operation required for Bayesian machine learning (in the form of marginalization and conditioning). Sampling algorithms still abound in this area, although it has long been known that Monte Carlo methods are fundamentally sub-optimal. The challenges for the development of better performing integration methods are mostly algorithmic. Moreover, recent algorithms have begun to outperform MCMC and its siblings, in wall-clock time, on realistic problems from machine learning.

The workshop will review the existing, by now quite strong, theoretical case against the use of random numbers for integration, discuss recent algorithmic developments, relationships between conceptual approaches, and highlight central research challenges going forward.”

Position that I hope to water down in my talk! In any case,

Je veux revoir le long désert
Des rues qui n’en finissent pas
Qui vont jusqu’au bout de l’hiver
Sans qu’il y ait trace de pas

ergodicity of approximate MCMC chains with applications to large datasets

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2015 by xi'an

bhamAnother arXived paper I read on my way to Warwick! And yet another paper written by my friend Natesh Pillai (and his co-author Aaron Smith, from Ottawa). The goal of the paper is to study the ergodicity and the degree of approximation of the true posterior distribution of approximate MCMC algorithms that recently flourished as an answer to “Big Data” issues… [Comments below are about the second version of this paper.] One of the most curious results in the paper is the fact that the approximation may prove better than the original kernel, in terms of computing costs! If asymptotically in the computing cost. There also are acknowledged connections with the approximative MCMC kernel of Pierre Alquier, Neal Friel, Richard Everitt and A Boland, briefly mentioned in an earlier post.

The paper starts with a fairly theoretical part, to follow with an application to austerity sampling [and, in the earlier version of the paper, to the Hoeffding bounds of Bardenet et al., both discussed earlier on the ‘Og, to exponential random graphs (the paper being rather terse on the description of the subsampling mechanism), to stochastic gradient Langevin dynamics (by Max Welling and Yee-Whye Teh), and to ABC-MCMC]. The assumptions are about the transition kernels of a reference Markov kernel and of one associated with the approximation, imposing some bounds on the Wasserstein distance between those kernels, K and K’. Results being generic, there is no constraint as to how K is chosen or on how K’ is derived from K. Except in Lemma 3.6 and in the application section, where the same proposal kernel L is used for both Metropolis-Hastings algorithms K and K’. While I understand this makes for an easier coupling of the kernels, this also sounds like a restriction to me in that modifying the target begs for a similar modification in the proposal, if only because the tails they are a-changin’

In the case of subsampling the likelihood to gain computation time (as discussed by Korattikara et al. and by Bardenet et al.), the austerity algorithm as described in Algorithm 2 is surprising as the average of the sampled data log-densities and the log-transform of the remainder of the Metropolis-Hastings probability, which seem unrelated, are compared until they are close enough.  I also find hard to derive from the different approximation theorems bounding exceedance probabilities a rule to decide on the subsampling rate as a function of the overall sample size and of the computing cost. (As a side if general remark, I remain somewhat reserved about the subsampling idea, given that it requires the entire dataset to be available at every iteration. This makes parallel implementations rather difficult to contemplate.)

scalable Bayesian inference for the inverse temperature of a hidden Potts model

Posted in Books, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2015 by xi'an

Brisbane, summer 2008Matt Moores, Tony Pettitt, and Kerrie Mengersen arXived a paper yesterday comparing different computational approaches to the processing of hidden Potts models and of the intractable normalising constant in the Potts model. This is a very interesting paper, first because it provides a comprehensive survey of the main methods used in handling this annoying normalising constant Z(β), namely pseudo-likelihood, the exchange algorithm, path sampling (a.k.a., thermal integration), and ABC. A massive simulation experiment with individual simulation times up to 400 hours leads to select path sampling (what else?!) as the (XL) method of choice. Thanks to a pre-computation of the expectation of the sufficient statistic E[S(Z)|β].  I just wonder why the same was not done for ABC, as in the recent Statistics and Computing paper we wrote with Matt and Kerrie. As it happens, I was actually discussing yesterday in Columbia of potential if huge improvements in processing Ising and Potts models by approximating first the distribution of S(X) for some or all β before launching ABC or the exchange algorithm. (In fact, this is a more generic desiderata for all ABC methods that simulating directly if approximately the summary statistics would being huge gains in computing time, thus possible in final precision.) Simulating the distribution of the summary and sufficient Potts statistic S(X) reduces to simulating this distribution with a null correlation, as exploited in Cucala and Marin (2013, JCGS, Special ICMS issue). However, there does not seem to be an efficient way to do so, i.e. without reverting to simulating the entire grid X…

ABC with emulators

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on January 9, 2015 by xi'an

A paper on the comparison of emulation methods for Approximate Bayesian Computation was recently arXived by Jabot et al. The idea is to bypass costly simulations of pseudo-data by running cheaper simulation from a pseudo-model or emulator constructed via a preliminary run of the original and costly model. To borrow from the paper introduction, ABC-Emulation runs as follows:

  1. design a small number n of parameter values covering the parameter space;
  2. generate n corresponding realisations from the model and store the corresponding summary statistics;
  3. build an emulator (model) based on those n values;
  4. run ABC using the emulator in lieu of the original model.

A first emulator proposed in the paper is to use local regression, as in Beaumont et al. (2002), except that it goes the reverse way: the regression model predicts a summary statistics given the parameter value. The second and last emulator relies on Gaussian processes, as in Richard Wilkinson‘s as well as Ted Meeds’s and Max Welling‘s recent work [also quoted in the paper]. The comparison of the above emulators is based on an ecological community dynamics model. The results are that the stochastic version is superior to the deterministic one, but overall not very useful when implementing the Beaumont et al. (2002) correction. The paper however does not define what deterministic and what stochastic mean…

“We therefore recommend the use of local regressions instead of Gaussian processes.”

While I find the conclusions of the paper somewhat over-optimistic given the range of the experiment and the limitations of the emulator options (like non-parametric conditional density estimation), it seems to me that this is a direction to be pursued as we need to be able to simulate directly a vector of summary statistics instead of the entire data process, even when considering an approximation to the distribution of those summaries.

Relevant statistics for Bayesian model choice [hot off the press!]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2014 by xi'an

jrssbabcOur paper about evaluating statistics used for ABC model choice has just appeared in Series B! It somewhat paradoxical that it comes out just a few days after we submitted our paper on using random forests for Bayesian model choice, thus bypassing the need for selecting those summary statistics by incorporating all statistics available and letting the trees automatically rank those statistics in term of their discriminating power. Nonetheless, this paper remains an exciting piece of work (!) as it addresses the more general and pressing question of the validity of running a Bayesian analysis with only part of the information contained in the data. Quite usefull in my (biased) opinion when considering the emergence of approximate inference already discussed on this ‘Og…

[As a trivial aside, I had first used fresh from the press(es) as the bracketted comment, before I realised the meaning was not necessarily the same in English and in French.]

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