Archive for MCMC

MCMC, variational inference, invertible flows… bridging the gap?

Posted in Books, Mountains, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2020 by xi'an

Two weeks ago, my friend [see here when climbing Pic du Midi d’Ossau in 2005!] and coauthor Éric Moulines gave a very interesting on-line talk entitled MCMC, Variational Inference, Invertible Flows… Bridging the gap?, which was merging MCMC, variational autoencoders, and variational inference. I paid close attention as I plan to teach an advanced course on acronyms next semester in Warwick. (By acronyms, I mean ABC+GAN+VAE!)

The notion in this work is that variational autoencoders are based on over-simple mean-field variational distributions, that usually produce a poor approximation of the target distribution. Éric and his coauthors propose to introduce a Metropolis step in the VAE. This leads to a more general notion of Markov transitions and a global balance condition. Hamiltonian Monte Carlo can be used as well and it improves the latent distribution approximation, namely the encoder, which is surprising to me. The steps of the Markov kernel produce a manageable transform of the initial mean field approximation, a random version of the original VAE. Manageable provided not too many MCMC steps are implemented. (Now, the flow of slides was much too fast for me to get a proper understanding of the implementation of the method, of the degree of its calibration, and of the computing cost. I need to read the associated papers.)

Once the talk was over, I went back to changing tires and tubes, as two bikes of mine had flat tires, the latest being a spectacular explosion (!) that seemingly went through the tire (although I believe the opposite happened, namely the tire got slashed and induced the tube to blow out very quickly). Blame the numerous bits of broken glass over bike paths.

one World ABC seminar [term #2]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2020 by xi'an

The on-line One World ABC seminar continues on-line this semester! With talks every other Thursday at 11:30 UK time (12:30 central European time). Incoming speakers are

with presenters to be confirmed for 29 October. Anyone interested in presenting at this webinar in a near future should not hesitate in contacting Massimiliano Tamborrino in Warwick or any of the other organisers of the seminar!

dropping a point

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2020 by xi'an

“A discussion about whether to drop the initial point came up in the plenary tutorial of Fred Hickernell at MCQMC 2020 about QMCPy software for QMC. The issue has been discussed by the pytorch community , and the scipy community, which are both incorporating QMC methods.”

Art Owen recently arXived a paper entitled On dropping the first Sobol’ point in which he examines the impact of a common practice consisting in skipping the first point of a Sobol’ sequence when using quasi-Monte Carlo. By analogy with the burn-in practice for MCMC that aims at eliminating the biais due to the choice of the starting value. Art’s paper shows that by skipping just this one point the rate of convergence of some QMC estimates may drop by a factor, bringing the rate back to Monte Carlo values! As this applies to randomised scrambled Sobol sequences, this is quite amazing. The explanation centers on the suppression leaving one region of the hypercube unexplored, with an O(n⁻¹) error ensuing.

The above picture from the paper makes the case in a most obvious way: the mean squared error is not decreasing at the same rate for the no-drop and one-drop versions, since they are -3/2 and -1, respectively. The paper further “recommends against using roundnumber sample sizes and thinning QMC points.” Conclusion: QMC is not MC!

computational advances in approximate Bayesian methods [at JSM]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on August 5, 2020 by xi'an

Another broadcast for an ABC (or rather ABM) session at JSM, organised and chaired by Robert Kohn, taking place tomorrow at 10am, ET, i.e., 2pm GMT, with variational and ABC talks:

454 * Thu, 8/6/2020, 10:00 AM – 11:50 AM Virtual
Computational Advances in Approximate Bayesian Methods — Topic Contributed Papers
Section on Bayesian Statistical Science
Organizer(s): Robert Kohn, University of New South Wales
Chair(s): Robert Kohn, University of New South Wales
10:05 AM Sparse Variational Inference: Bayesian Coresets from Scratch
Trevor Campbell, University of British Columbia
10:25 AM Fast Variational Approximation for Multivariate Factor Stochastic Volatility Model
David Gunawan, University of Wollongong; Robert Kohn, University of New South Wales; David Nott, National University of Singapore
10:45 AM High-Dimensional Copula Variational Approximation Through Transformation
Michael Smith, University of Melbourne; Ruben Loaiza-Maya, Monash University ; David Nott, National University of Singapore
11:05 AM Mini-Batch Metropolis-Hastings MCMC with Reversible SGLD Proposal
Rachel Wang, University of Sydney; Tung-Yu Wu, Stanford University; Wing Hung Wong, Stanford University
11:25 AM Weighted Approximate Bayesian Computation via Large Deviations Theory
Cecilia Viscardi, University of Florence; Michele Boreale, University of Florence; Fabio Corradi, University of Florence; Antonietta Mira, Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI)
11:45 AM Floor Discussion

deterministic moves in Metropolis-Hastings

Posted in Books, Kids, R, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2020 by xi'an

A curio on X validated where an hybrid Metropolis-Hastings scheme involves a deterministic transform, once in a while. The idea is to flip the sample from one mode, ν, towards the other mode, μ, with a symmetry of the kind

μ-α(x+μ) and ν-α(x+ν)

with α a positive coefficient. Or the reciprocal,

-μ+(μ-x)/α and -ν+(ν-x)/α

for… reversibility reasons. In that case, the acceptance probability is simply the Jacobian of the transform to the proposal, just as in reversible jump MCMC.

Why the (annoying) Jacobian? As explained in the above slides (and other references), the Jacobian is there to account for the change of measure induced by the transform.

Returning to the curio, the originator of the question had spotted some discrepancy between the target and the MCMC sample, as the moments did not fit well enough. For a similar toy model, a balanced Normal mixture, and an artificial flip consisting of

x’=±1-x/2 or x’=±2-2x

implemented by


I could not spot said discrepancy beyond Monte Carlo variability.