Archive for computing cost

scalable Metropolis-Hastings, nested Monte Carlo, and normalising flows

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2020 by xi'an

Over a sunny if quarantined Sunday, I started reading the PhD dissertation of Rob Cornish, Oxford University, as I am the external member of his viva committee. Ending up in a highly pleasant afternoon discussing this thesis over a (remote) viva yesterday. (If bemoaning a lost opportunity to visit Oxford!) The introduction to the viva was most helpful and set the results within the different time and geographical zones of the Ph.D since Rob had to switch from one group of advisors in Engineering to another group in Statistics. Plus an encompassing prospective discussion, expressing pessimism at exact MCMC for complex models and looking forward further advances in probabilistic programming.

Made of three papers, the thesis includes this ICML 2019 [remember the era when there were conferences?!] paper on scalable Metropolis-Hastings, by Rob Cornish, Paul Vanetti, Alexandre Bouchard-Côté, Georges Deligiannidis, and Arnaud Doucet, which I commented last year. Which achieves a remarkable and paradoxical O(1/√n) cost per iteration, provided (global) lower bounds are found on the (local) Metropolis-Hastings acceptance probabilities since they allow for Poisson thinning à la Devroye (1986) and  second order Taylor expansions constructed for all components of the target, with the third order derivatives providing bounds. However, the variability of the acceptance probability gets higher, which induces a longer but still manageable if the concentration of the posterior is in tune with the Bernstein von Mises asymptotics. I had not paid enough attention in my first read at the strong theoretical justification for the method, relying on the convergence of MAP estimates in well- and (some) mis-specified settings. Now, I would have liked to see the paper dealing with a more complex problem that logistic regression.

The second paper in the thesis is an ICML 2018 proceeding by Tom Rainforth, Robert Cornish, Hongseok Yang, Andrew Warrington, and Frank Wood, which considers Monte Carlo problems involving several nested expectations in a non-linear manner, meaning that (a) several levels of Monte Carlo approximations are required, with associated asymptotics, and (b) the resulting overall estimator is biased. This includes common doubly intractable posteriors, obviously, as well as (Bayesian) design and control problems. [And it has nothing to do with nested sampling.] The resolution chosen by the authors is strictly plug-in, in that they replace each level in the nesting with a Monte Carlo substitute and do not attempt to reduce the bias. Which means a wide range of solutions (other than the plug-in one) could have been investigated, including bootstrap maybe. For instance, Bayesian design is presented as an application of the approach, but since it relies on the log-evidence, there exist several versions for estimating (unbiasedly) this log-evidence. Similarly, the Forsythe-von Neumann technique applies to arbitrary transforms of a primary integral. The central discussion dwells on the optimal choice of the volume of simulations at each level, optimal in terms of asymptotic MSE. Or rather asymptotic bound on the MSE. The interesting result being that the outer expectation requires the square of the number of simulations for the other expectations. Which all need converge to infinity. A trick in finding an estimator for a polynomial transform reminded me of the SAME algorithm in that it duplicated the simulations as many times as the highest power of the polynomial. (The ‘Og briefly reported on this paper… four years ago.)

The third and last part of the thesis is a proposal [to appear in ICML 20] on relaxing bijectivity constraints in normalising flows with continuously index flows. (Or CIF. As Rob made a joke about this cleaning brand, let me add (?) to that joke by mentioning that looking at CIF and bijections is less dangerous in a Trump cum COVID era at CIF and injections!) With Anthony Caterini, George Deligiannidis and Arnaud Doucet as co-authors. I am much less familiar with this area and hence a wee bit puzzled at the purpose of removing what I understand to be an appealing side of normalising flows, namely to produce a manageable representation of density functions as a combination of bijective and differentiable functions of a baseline random vector, like a standard Normal vector. The argument made in the paper is that imposing this representation of the density imposes a constraint on the topology of its support since said support is homeomorphic to the support of the baseline random vector. While the supporting theoretical argument is a mathematical theorem that shows the Lipschitz bound on the transform should be infinity in the case the supports are topologically different, these arguments may be overly theoretical when faced with the practical implications of the replacement strategy. I somewhat miss its overall strength given that the whole point seems to be in approximating a density function, based on a finite sample.

selecting summary statistics [a tale of two distances]

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2019 by xi'an

As Jonathan Harrison came to give a seminar in Warwick [which I could not attend], it made me aware of his paper with Ruth Baker on the selection of summaries in ABC. The setting is an ABC-SMC algorithm and it relates with Fearnhead and Prangle (2012), Barnes et al. (2012), our own random forest approach, the neural network version of Papamakarios and Murray (2016), and others. The notion here is to seek the optimal weights of different summary statistics in the tolerance distance, towards a maximization of a distance (Hellinger) between prior and ABC posterior (Wasserstein also comes to mind!). A sort of dual of the least informative prior. Estimated by a k-nearest neighbour version [based on samples from the prior and from the ABC posterior] I had never seen before. I first did not get how this k-nearest neighbour distance could be optimised in the weights since the posterior sample was already generated and (SMC) weighted, but the ABC sample can be modified by changing the [tolerance] distance weights and the resulting Hellinger distance optimised this way. (There are two distances involved, in case the above description is too murky!)

“We successfully obtain an informative unbiased posterior.”

The paper spends a significant while in demonstrating that the k-nearest neighbour estimator converges and much less on the optimisation procedure itself, which seems like a real challenge to me when facing a large number of particles and a high enough dimension (in the number of statistics). (In the examples, the size of the summary is 1 (where does the weight matter?), 32, 96, 64, with 5 10⁴, 5 10⁴, 5 10³ and…10 particles, respectively.) The authors address the issue, though, albeit briefly, by mentioning that, for the same overall computation time, the adaptive weight ABC is indeed further from the prior than a regular ABC with uniform weights [rather than weighted by the precisions]. They also argue that down-weighting some components is akin to selecting a subset of summaries, but I beg to disagree with this statement as the weights are never exactly zero, as far as I can see, hence failing to fight the curse of dimensionality. Some LASSO version could implement this feature.

anytime algorithm

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2017 by xi'an

Lawrence Murray, Sumeet Singh, Pierre Jacob, and Anthony Lee (Warwick) recently arXived a paper on Anytime Monte Carlo. (The earlier post on this topic is no coincidence, as Lawrence had told me about this problem when he visited Paris last Spring. Including a forced extension when his passport got stolen.) The difficulty with anytime algorithms for MCMC is the lack of exchangeability of the MCMC sequence (except for formal settings where regeneration can be used).

When accounting for duration of computation between steps of an MCMC generation, the Markov chain turns into a Markov jump process, whose stationary distribution α is biased by the average delivery time. Unless it is constant. The authors manage this difficulty by interlocking the original chain with a secondary chain so that even- and odd-index chains are independent. The secondary chain is then discarded. This provides a way to run an anytime MCMC. The principle can be extended to K+1 chains, run one after the other, since only one of those chains need be discarded. It also applies to SMC and SMC². The appeal of anytime simulation in this particle setting is that resampling is no longer a bottleneck. Hence easily distributed among processors. One aspect I do not fully understand is how the computing budget is handled, since allocating the same real time to each iteration of SMC seems to envision each target in the sequence as requiring the same amount of time. (An interesting side remark made in this paper is the lack of exchangeability resulting from elaborate resampling mechanisms, lack I had not thought of before.)

merging MCMC subposteriors

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on June 8, 2016 by xi'an

Christopher Nemeth and Chris Sherlock arXived a paper yesterday about an approach to distributed MCMC sampling via Gaussian processes. As in several other papers commented on the ‘Og, the issue is to merge MCMC samples from sub-posteriors into a sample or any sort of approximation of the complete (product) posterior. I am quite sympathetic to the approach adopted in this paper, namely to use a log-Gaussian process representation of each sub-posterior and then to replace each sub-posterior with its log-Gaussian process posterior expectation in an MCMC or importance scheme. And to assess its variability through the posterior variance of the sum of log-Gaussian processes. As pointed out by the authors the closed form representation of the posterior mean of the log-posterior is invaluable as it allows for an HMC implementation. And importance solutions as well. The probabilistic numerics behind this perspective are also highly relevant.

A few arguable (?) points:

  1. The method often relies on importance sampling and hence on the choice of an importance function that is most likely influential but delicate to calibrate in complex settings as I presume the Gaussian estimates are not useful in this regard;
  2. Using Monte Carlo to approximate the value of the approximate density at a given parameter value (by simulating from the posterior distribution) is natural but is it that efficient?
  3. It could be that, by treating all sub-posterior samples as noisy versions of the same (true) posterior, a more accurate approximation of this posterior could be constructed;
  4. The method relies on the exponentiation of a posterior expectation or simulation. As of yesterday, I am somehow wary of log-normal expectations!
  5. If the purpose of the exercise is to approximate univariate integrals, it would seem more profitable to use the Gaussian processes at the univariate level;
  6. The way the normalising missing constants and the duplicate simulations are processed (or not) could deserve further exploration;
  7. Computing costs are in fine unclear when compared with the other methods in the toolbox.

analysing statistical and computational trade-off of estimation procedures

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on July 8, 2015 by xi'an

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“The collection of estimates may be determined by questions such as: How much storage is available? Can all the data be kept in memory or only a subset? How much processing power is available? Are there parallel or distributed systems that can be exploited?”

Daniel Sussman, Alexander Volfovsky, and Edoardo Airoldi from Harvard wrote a very interesting paper about setting a balance between statistical efficiency and computational efficiency, a theme that resonates with our recent work on ABC and older considerations about the efficiency of Monte Carlo algorithms. While the paper avoids drifting towards computer science even with a notion like algorithmic complexity, I like the introduction of a loss function in the comparison game, even though the way to combine both dimensions is unclear. And may limit the exercise to an intellectual game. In an ideal setting one would set the computational time, like “I have one hour to get this estimate”, and compare risks under that that computing constraint. Possibly dumping some observations from the sample to satisfy the constraint. Ideally. Which is why this also reminds me of ABC: given an intractable likelihood, one starts by throwing away some data precision by using a tolerance ε and usually more through an insufficient statistic. Hence ABC procedures could also be compared in such terms.

In the current paper, the authors only compare schemes of breaking the sample into bits to handle each observation only once. Meaning it cannot be used in both the empirical mean and the empirical variance. This sounds a bit contrived in that the optimum allocation depends on the value of the parameter the procedure attempts to estimate. Still, it could lead to a new form of bandit problems: given a bandit with as many arms as there are parameters, at each new observation, decide on the allocation towards minimising the overall risk. (There is a missing sentence at the end of Section 4.)

Any direction for turning those considerations into a practical decision machine would be fantastic, although the difficulties are formidable, from deciding between estimators and selecting a class of estimators, to computing costs and risks depending on unknown parameters.