Archive for causality

sampling, transport, and diffusions

Posted in pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2022 by xi'an


This week, I am attending a very cool workshop at the Flatiron Institute (not in the Flatiron building!, but close enough) on Sampling, Transport, and Diffusions, organised by Bob Carpenter and Michael Albergo. It is quite exciting as I do not know most participants or their work! The Flatiron Institute is a private institute focussed on fundamental science funded by the Simons Foundation (in such working conditions universities cannot compete with!).

Eric Vanden-Eijden gave an introductory lecture on using optimal transport notion to improve sampling, with a PDE/ODE approach of continuously turning a base distribution into a target (formalised by the distribution at time one). This amounts to solving a velocity solution to an KL optimisation objective whose target value is zero. Velocity parameterised as a deep neural network density estimator. Using a score function in a reverse SDE inspired by Hyvärinnen (2005), with a surprising occurrence of Stein’s unbiased estimator, there for the same reasons of getting rid of an unknown element. In a lot of environments, simulating from the target is the goal and this can be achieved by MCMC sampling by normalising flows, learning the transform / pushforward map.

At the break, Yuling Yao made a very smart remark that testing between two models could also be seen as an optimal transport, trying to figure an optimal transform from one model to the next, rather than the bland mixture model we used in our mixtestin paper. At this point I have no idea about the practical difficulty of using / inferring the parameters of this continuum but one could start from normalising flows. Because of time continuity, one would need some driving principle.

Esteban Tabak gave another interest talk on simulating from a conditional distribution, which sounds like a no-problem when the conditional density is known but a challenge when only pairs are observed. The problem is seen as a transport problem to a barycentre obtained as a distribution independent from the conditioning z and then inverting. Constructing maps through flows. Very cool, even possibly providing an answer for causality questions.

Many of the transport talks involved normalizing flows. One by [Simons Fellow] Christopher Jazynski about adding to the Hamiltonian (in HMC) an artificial flow field  (Vaikuntanathan and Jarzynski, 2009) to make up for the Hamiltonian moving too fast for the simulation to keep track. Connected with Eric Vanden-Eijden’s talk in the end.

An interesting extension of delayed rejection for HMC by Chirag Modi, with a manageable correction à la Antonietta Mira. Johnatan Niles-Weed provided a nonparametric perspective on optimal transport following Hütter+Rigollet, 21 AoS. With forays into the Sinkhorn algorithm, mentioning Aude Genevay’s (Dauphine graduate) regularisation.

Michael Lindsey gave a great presentation on the estimation of the trace of a matrix by the Hutchinson estimator for sdp matrices using only matrix multiplication. Solution surprisingly relying on Gibbs sampling called thermal sampling.

And while it did not involve optimal transport, I gave a short (lightning) talk on our recent adaptive restore paper: although in retrospect a presentation of Wasserstein ABC could have been more suited to the audience.

health non-sense [xkcd]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , on June 5, 2022 by xi'an

Bill’s 80th!!!

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2022 by xi'an

“It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times”
[Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities (which plays a role in my friendship with Bill!)]

My flight to NYC last week was uneventful and rather fast and I worked rather well, even though the seat in front of me was inclined to the max for the entire flight! (Still got glimpses of Aline and of Deepwater Horizon from my neighbours.) Taking a very early flight from Paris was great making a full day once in NYC,  but “forcing” me to take a taxi, which almost ended up in disaster since the Über driver did not show up. At all. And never replied to my message. Fortunately trains were running, I was also running despite the broken rib, and I arrived at the airport some time before access was closed, grateful for the low activity that day. I also had another bit of a worrying moment at the US border control in JFK as I ended up in a back-office of the Border Police after the machine could not catch my fingerprints. And another stop at the luggage control as my lack of luggage sounded suspicious!The conference was delightful in celebrating Bill’s carreer and kindness (tinted with the most gentle irony!). Among stories told at the banquet, I was surprised to learn of Bill’s jazz career side, as I had never heard him play the piano or the clarinet! Even though we had chatted about music and literature on many occasions. Since our meeting in 1989… The (scientific side of the) conference included many talks around shrinkage, from loss estimation to predictive estimation, reminding me of the roaring 70’s and 80’s [James-Stein wise]. And demonstrating the impact of Bill’s wor throughout this era (incl. on my own PhD thesis). I started wondering at the (Bayesian) use of the loss estimate, though, as I set myself facing two point estimators attached with two estimators of their loss: it did not seem a particularly good idea to systematically pick the one with the smallest estimate (and Jim Berger confirmed this feeling on a later discussion). Among the talks on less familiar topics (of mine), I discovered work of Genevera Allen‘s on inferring massive network for neuron connections under sparse information. And of Emma Jingfei Zhang, equally centred on network inference, with applications to brain connectivity.

In a somewhat remote connection with Bill’s work (and our joint and hilarious assessment of Pitman closeness), I presented part of our joint and current work with Adrien Hairault and Judith Rousseau on inferring the number of components in a mixture by Bayes factors when the alternative is an infinite mixture (i.e., a Dirichlet process mixture). Of which Ruobin Gong gave a terrific discussion. (With a connection to her current work on Sense and Sensitivity.)

I was most sorry to miss Larry Wasserman’s and Rob Strawderman’s talk to rush back to the airport, the more because I am sure Larry’s talk would have brought a new light on causality (possibly equating it with tequila and mixtures!). The flight back was uneventfull, the plane rather empty and I slept most of the time. Overall,  it was most wonderful to re-connect with so many friends. Most of whom I had not seen for ages, even before the pandemic. And to meet new friends. (Nothing original in the reported feeling, just telling that the break in conferences and workshops was primarily a hatchet job on social relations and friendships.)

RSS 2022 Honours

Posted in pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2022 by xi'an

21w5107 [½day 4]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2021 by xi'an

Final ½ day of the 21w5107 workshop for me, as our initial plans were to stop today due to the small number of participants on site. And I had booked plane tickets early, too early. I will thus sadly miss the four afternoon talks, mea culpa! However I did attend Noiritt Chandra’s talk on Bayesian factor analysis. Which has always been a bit of a mystery to me in the sense that the number q of factors need be specified, which is a prior input one rarely controls. Here the goal is to estimate a covariance matrix with a sparse representation. And q is estimated by empirical likelihood ahead of the estimation of the matrix. The focus was on minimaxity and MCMC implementation rather than objective Bayes per se! Then, Daniele Durante spoke about analytical posteriors for probit models using unified skew-Normal priors (following a 2019 Biometrika paper). Including marginal posteriors and marginal likelihood. And for various extensions like dynamic probit models. Opening other computational issues such as simulating high dimensional truncated Normal distributions. (Potential use of delayed acceptance there?) This second talk was also drifting away from objective Bayes! In the first half of his talk, Filippo Ascolani introduced us to trees of random probability measures, each mother node being the distribution of the atoms of the children nodes. (Interestingly, Kingman is both connected to (coalescent) trees and to completely random measures.) My naïve first impression was that the distributions would get more and more degenerate as the number of levels in the tree would increase, however I am unsure this is correct as Filippo mentioned getting observations on all nodes. The talk also made me wonder at how this could be related Radford Neal’s Dirichlet trees. (Which I discovered at my first ICMS workshop about 20 years ago.) Yang Ni concluded the morning with a talk on causality that provided (to me) a very smooth (re)introduction to Bayesian causal graphs.

Even more than last time, I enormously enjoyed the workshop, its location, the fantastic staff at the hotel, and the reconnection with dear friends!, just regretting we could not be a few more. I appreciate the efforts made by on-line participants to stay connected and intervene (thanks, Ed!), but the quality of interactions is sadly of another magnitude when spending all our time together. Hopefully there will be a next time and hopefully we’ll then be back to larger size (and hopefully the location will remain the same). Hasta luego, Oaxaca!

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