## AABI9 tidbits [& misbits]

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2019 by xi'an

Today’s Advances in Approximate Bayesian Inference symposium, organised by Thang Bui, Adji Bousso Dieng, Dawen Liang, Francisco Ruiz, and Cheng Zhang, took place in front of Vancouver Harbour (and the tentalising ski slope at the back) and saw more than 400 participants, drifting away from the earlier versions which had a stronger dose of ABC and much fewer participants. There were students’ talks in a fair proportion, as well (and a massive number of posters). As of below, I took some notes during some of the talks with no pretense at exhaustivity, objectivity or accuracy. (This is a blog post, remember?!) Overall I found the day exciting (to the point I did not suffer at all from the usal naps consecutive to very short nights!) and engaging, with a lot of notions and methods I had never heard about. (Which shows how much I know nothing!)

The fourth talk was by Sergey Levine, Reinforcement Learning, Optimal , Control, and Probabilistic Inference, back to Kullback-Leibler as the objective function, with linkage to optimal control (with distributions as actions?), plus again variational inference, producing an approximation in sequential settings. This sounded like a type of return of the MaxEnt prior, but the talk pace was so intense that I could not follow where the innovations stood.

The fifth talk was by Iuliia Molchanova, on Structured Semi-Implicit Variational Inference, from BAyesgroup.ru (I did not know of a Bayesian group in Russia!, as I was under the impression that Bayesian statistics were under-represented there, but apparently the situation is quite different in machine learning.) The talk brought an interesting concept of semi-implicit variational inference, exploiting some form of latent variables as far as I can understand, using mixtures of Gaussians.

The sixth talk was by Rianne van den Berg, Normalizing Flows for Discrete Data, and amounted to covering three papers also discussed in NeurIPS 2019 proper, which I found somewhat of a suboptimal approach to an invited talk, as it turned into a teaser for following talks or posters. But the teasers it contained were quite interesting as they covered normalising flows as integer valued controlled changes of variables using neural networks about which I had just became aware during the poster session, in connection with papers of Papamakarios et al., which I need to soon read.

The seventh talk was by Matthew Hoffman: Langevin Dynamics as Nonparametric Variational Inference, and sounded most interesting, both from title and later reports, as it was bridging Langevin with VI, but I alas missed it for being “stuck” in a tea-house ceremony that lasted much longer than expected. (More later on that side issue!)

After the second poster session (with a highly original proposal by Radford Neal towards creating  non-reversibility at the level of the uniform generator rather than later on), I thus only attended Emily Fox’s Stochastic Gradient MCMC for Sequential Data Sources, which superbly reviewed (in connection with a sequence of papers, including a recent one by Aicher et al.) error rate and convergence properties of stochastic gradient estimator methods there. Another paper I need to soon read!

The one before last speaker, Roman Novak, exposed a Python library about infinite neural networks, for which I had no direct connection (and talks I have always difficulties about libraries, even without a four hour sleep night) and the symposium concluded with a mild round-table. Mild because Frank Wood’s best efforts (and healthy skepticism about round tables!) to initiate controversies, we could not see much to bite from each other’s viewpoint.

## noise contrastive estimation

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2019 by xi'an

As I was attending Lionel Riou-Durand’s PhD thesis defence in ENSAE-CREST last week, I had a look at his papers (!). The 2018 noise contrastive paper is written with Nicolas Chopin (both authors share the CREST affiliation with me). Which compares Charlie Geyer’s 1994 bypassing the intractable normalising constant problem by virtue of an artificial logit model with additional simulated data from another distribution ψ.

“Geyer (1994) established the asymptotic properties of the MC-MLE estimates under general conditions; in particular that the x’s are realisations of an ergodic process. This is remarkable, given that most of the theory on M-estimation (i.e.estimation obtained by maximising functions) is restricted to iid data.”

Michael Guttman and Aapo Hyvärinen also use additional simulated data in another likelihood of a logistic classifier, called noise contrastive estimation. Both methods replace the unknown ratio of normalising constants with an unbiased estimate based on the additional simulated data. The major and impressive result in this paper [now published in the Electronic Journal of Statistics] is that the noise contrastive estimation approach always enjoys a smaller variance than Geyer’s solution, at an equivalent computational cost when the actual data observations are iid. And the artificial data simulations ergodic. The difference between both estimators is however negligible against the Monte Carlo error (Theorem 2).

This may be a rather naïve question, but I wonder at the choice of the alternative distribution ψ. With a vague notion that it could be optimised in a GANs perspective. A side result of interest in the paper is to provide a minimal (re)parameterisation of the truncated multivariate Gaussian distribution, if only as an exercise for future exams. Truncated multivariate Gaussian for which the normalising constant is of course unknown.

## Siem Reap conference

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2019 by xi'an

As I returned from the conference in Siem Reap. on a flight avoiding India and Pakistan and their [brittle and bristling!] boundary on the way back, instead flying far far north, near Arkhangelsk (but with nothing to show for it, as the flight back was fully in the dark), I reflected how enjoyable this conference had been, within a highly friendly atmosphere, meeting again with many old friends (some met prior to the creation of CREST) and new ones, a pleasure not hindered by the fabulous location near Angkor of course. (The above picture is the “last hour” group picture, missing a major part of the participants, already gone!)

Among the many talks, Stéphane Shao gave a great presentation on a paper [to appear in JASA] jointly written with Pierre Jacob, Jie Ding, and Vahid Tarokh on the Hyvärinen score and its use for Bayesian model choice, with a highly intuitive representation of this divergence function (which I first met in Padua when Phil Dawid gave a talk on this approach to Bayesian model comparison). Which is based on the use of a divergence function based on the squared error difference between the gradients of the true log-score and of the model log-score functions. Providing an alternative to the Bayes factor that can be shown to be consistent, even for some non-iid data, with some gains in the experiments represented by the above graph.

Arnak Dalalyan (CREST) presented a paper written with Lionel Riou-Durand on the convergence of non-Metropolised Langevin Monte Carlo methods, with a new discretization which leads to a substantial improvement of the upper bound on the sampling error rate measured in Wasserstein distance. Moving from p/ε to √p/√ε in the requested number of steps when p is the dimension and ε the target precision, for smooth and strongly log-concave targets.

This post gives me the opportunity to advertise for the NGO Sala Baï hostelry school, which the whole conference visited for lunch and which trains youths from underprivileged backgrounds towards jobs in hostelery, supported by donations, companies (like Krama Krama), or visiting the Sala Baï  restaurant and/or hotel while in Siem Reap.

## scalable Metropolis-Hastings

Posted in Books, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2019 by xi'an

Among the flury of arXived papers of last week (414!), including a fair chunk of papers submitted to ICML 2019, I spotted one entry by Cornish et al. on scalable Metropolis-Hastings, which Arnaud Doucet had mentioned to me yesterday when in Oxford. The paper builds on the delayed acceptance paper we wrote with Marco Banterlé, Clara Grazian and Anthony Lee, itself relying on a factorisation decomposition of the likelihood, combined with control variate accelerating techniques. The factorisation of both the target and the proposal allows for a (less efficient) Metropolis-Hastings acceptance ratio that is the product

$\prod_{i=1}^m \alpha_i(\theta,\theta')$

of individual Metropolis-Hastings acceptance ratios, but which allows for quicker rejection if one of the probabilities in the product is small, because the corresponding Bernoulli draw is zero with high probability. One advance made in Michel et al. (2017) [which I doubly missed] is that subsampling is achievable by thinning (as in PDMPs, where these authors have been quite active) through an algorithm of Shantikumar (1985) [described in Devroye’s bible]. Provided each Metropolis-Hastings probability can be lower bounded:

$\alpha_i(\theta,\theta') \ge \exp\{-\psi_i \phi(\theta,\theta')\}$

by a term where the transition φ does not depend on the index i in the product. The computing cost of the thinning process thus depends on the efficiency of the subsampling, namely whether or not the (Poisson) number of terms is much smaller than m, number of terms in the product. A neat trick in the current paper that extends the the Fukui-Todo procedure is to switch to the original Metropolis-Hastings when the overall lower bound is too small, recovering the geometric ergodicity of this original if it holds (Theorem 2.1). Another neat remark is that when using the naïve factorisation as the product of the n individual likelihoods, the resulting algorithm is sort of doomed as n grows, even with an optimal scaling of the proposals. To achieve scalability, the authors introduce a Taylor (i.e., Gaussian) approximation to each local target in the product and start the acceptance decomposition by using the resulting overall Gaussian approximation. Meaning that the remaining product is now made of ratios of targets over their local Taylor approximations, hence most likely close to one. And potentially lower-bounded by the remainder term in the Taylor expansion. Leading to the conclusion that, when everything goes well, meaning that the Taylor expansions can be conducted and the bounds derived for the appropriate expansion, the order of the Poisson scale is O(1/√n)..! The proposal for the Metropolis-Hastings move is actually tuned to the Gaussian approximation, appearing as a variant of the Langevin move or more exactly a discretization of an Hamiltonian move. Obviously, I cannot judge of the complexity in implementing this new scheme from just reading the paper, but this development on the split target is definitely an exciting prospect for handling huge datasets and their friends!

## Markov chain importance sampling

Posted in Books, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2018 by xi'an

Ingmar Schuster (formerly a postdoc at Dauphine and now in Freie Universität Berlin) and Ilja Klebanov (from Berlin) have recently arXived a paper on recycling proposed values in [a rather large class of] Metropolis-Hastings and unadjusted Langevin algorithms. This means using the proposed variates of one of these algorithms as in an importance sampler, with an importance weight going from the target over the (fully conditional) proposal to the target over the marginal stationary target. In the Metropolis-Hastings case, since the later is not available in most setups, the authors suggest using a Rao-Blackwellised nonparametric estimate based on the entire MCMC chain. Or a subset.

“Our estimator refutes the folk theorem that it is hard to estimate [the normalising constant] with mainstream Monte Carlo methods such as Metropolis-Hastings.”

The paper thus brings an interesting focus on the proposed values, rather than on the original Markov chain,  which naturally brings back to mind the derivation of the joint distribution of these proposed values we made in our (1996) Rao-Blackwellisation paper with George Casella. Where we considered a parametric and non-asymptotic version of this distribution, which brings a guaranteed improvement to MCMC (Metropolis-Hastings) estimates of integrals. In subsequent papers with George, we tried to quantify this improvement and to compare different importance samplers based on some importance sampling corrections, but as far as I remember, we only got partial results along this way, and did not cover the special case of the normalising constant Þ… Normalising constants did not seem such a pressing issue at that time, I figure. (A Monte Carlo 101 question: how can we be certain the importance sampler offers a finite variance?)