**H**eiko Strathmann, Dino Sejdinovic, Samuel Livingstone, Zoltán Szabó, and Arthur Gretton arXived a paper last week about Kamiltonian MCMC, the K being related with RKHS. (RKHS as in another KAMH paper for adaptive Metropolis-Hastings by essentially the same authors, plus Maria Lomeli and Christophe Andrieu. And another paper by some of the authors on density estimation via infinite exponential family models.) The goal here is to bypass the computation of the derivatives in the moves of the Hamiltonian MCMC algorithm by using a kernel surrogate. While the genuine RKHS approach operates within an infinite exponential family model, two versions are proposed, KMC lite with an increasing sequence of RKHS subspaces, and KMC finite, with a finite dimensional space. In practice, this means using a leapfrog integrator with a different potential function, hence with a different dynamics.

The estimation of the infinite exponential family model is somewhat of an issue, as it is estimated from the past history of the Markov chain, simplified into a random subsample from this history [presumably without replacement, meaning the Markovian structure is lost on the subsample]. This is puzzling because there is dependence on the whole past, which cancels ergodicity guarantees… For instance, we gave an illustration in Introducing Monte Carlo Methods with R [Chapter 8] of the poor impact of approximating the target by non-parametric kernel estimates. I would thus lean towards the requirement of a secondary Markov chain to build this kernel estimate. The authors are obviously aware of this difficulty and advocate an attenuation scheme. There is also the issue of the cost of a kernel estimate, in O(n³) for a subsample of size n. If, instead, a fixed dimension m for the RKHS is selected, the cost is in O(tm²+m³), with the advantage of a feasible on-line update, making it an O(m³) cost in fine. But again the worry of using the whole past of the Markov chain to set its future path…

Among the experiments, a KMC for ABC that follows the recent proposal of Hamiltonian ABC by Meeds et al. The arguments are interesting albeit sketchy: KMC-ABC does not require simulations at each leapfrog step, is it because the kernel approximation does not get updated at each step? Puzzling.

I also discussed the paper with Michael Betancourt (Warwick) and here his comments:

*“I’m hesitant for the same reason I’ve been hesitant about algorithms like Bayesian quadrature and GP emulators in general. Outside of a few dimensions I’m not convinced that GP priors have enough regularization to really specify the interpolation between the available samples, so any algorithm that uses a single interpolation will be fundamentally limited (as I believe is born out in non-trivial scaling examples) and trying to marginalize over interpolations will be too awkward.*

*They’re really using kernel methods to model the target density which then gives the gradient analytically. RKHS/kernel methods/ Gaussian processes are all the same math — they’re putting prior measures over functions. My hesitancy is that **these measures are at once more diffuse than people think (there are lots of functions satisfying a given smoothness criterion) and more rigid than people think (perturb any of the smoothness hyper-parameters and you get an entirely new space of functions).*

*When using these methods as an emulator you have to set the values of the hyper-parameters which locks in a very singular **definition of smoothness and neglects all others. But even within this singular definition there are a huge number of possible functions. So when you only have a few points to constrain the emulation surface, how accurate can you expect the emulator to be between the points?*

*In most cases where the gradient is unavailable it’s either because (a) people are using decades-old Fortran black boxes that no one understands, in which case there are bigger problems than trying to improve statistical methods or (b) there’s a marginalization, in which case the gradients are given by integrals which can be approximated with more MCMC. Lots of options.”*