Archive for scalability

patterns of scalable Bayesian inference

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2016 by xi'an

Elaine Angelino, Matthew Johnson and Ryan Adams just arXived a massive survey of 118 pages on scalable Bayesian inference, which could have been entitled Bayes for Big Data, as this monograph covers state-of-the-art computational approaches to large and complex data structures. I did not read each and every line of it, but I have already recommended it to my PhD students. Some of its material unsurprisingly draws from the recent survey by Rémi Bardenet et al. (2015) I discussed a while ago. It also relates rather frequently to the somewhat parallel ICML paper of Korattikara et al. (2014). And to the firefly Monte Carlo procedure also discussed previously here.

Chapter 2 provides some standard background on computational techniques, Chapter 3 covers MCMC with data subsets, Chapter 4 gives some entries on MCMC with parallel and distributed architectures, Chapter 5 focus on variational solutions, and Chapter 6 is about open questions and challenges.

“Insisting on zero asymptotic bias from Monte Carlo estimates of expectations may leave us swamped in errors from high variance or transient bias.”

One central theme of the paper is the need for approximate solutions, MCMC being perceived as the exact solution. (Somewhat wrongly in the sense that the product of an MCMC is at best an empirical version of the true posterior, hence endowed with a residual and incompressible variation for a given computing budget.) While Chapter 3 stresses the issue of assessing the distance to the true posterior, it does not dwell at all on computing times and budget, which is arguably a much harder problem. Chapter 4 seems to be more aware of this issue since arguing that “a way to use parallel computing resources is to run multiple sequential MCMC algorithms at once [but that this] does not reduce the transient bias in MCMC estimates of posterior expectations” (p.54). The alternatives are to use either prefetching (which was the central theme of Elaine Angelino’s thesis), asynchronous Gibbs with the new to me (?) Hogwild Gibbs algorithms (connected in Terenin et al.’s recent paper, not quoted in the paper), some versions of consensus Monte Carlo covered in earlier posts, the missing links being in my humble opinion an assessment of the worth of those solutions (in the spirit of “here’s the solution, what was the problem again?”) and once again the computing time issue. Chapter 5 briefly discusses some recent developments in variational mean field approximations, which is farther from my interests and (limited) competence, but which appears as a particular class of approximate models and thus could (and should?) relate to likelihood-free methods. Chapter 6 about the current challenges of the field is presumably the most interesting in this monograph in that it produces open questions and suggests directions for future research. For instance, opposing the long term MCMC error with the short term transient part. Or the issue of comparing different implementations in a practical and timely perspective.

Je reviendrai à Montréal [D-2]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2015 by xi'an

I have spent the day and more completing and compiling slides for my contrapuntal perspective on probabilistic numerics, back in Montréal, for the NIPS 2015 workshop of December 11 on this theme. As I presume the kind  invitation by the organisers was connected with my somewhat critical posts on the topic, I mostly  The day after, while I am flying back to London for the CFE (Computational and Financial Econometrics) workshop, somewhat reluctantly as there will be another NIPS workshop that day on scalable Monte Carlo.

Je veux revoir le long désert
Des rues qui n’en finissent pas
Qui vont jusqu’au bout de l’hiver
Sans qu’il y ait trace de pas

Je reviendrai à Montréal [NIPS 2015]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2015 by xi'an

I will be back in Montréal, as the song by Robert Charlebois goes, for the NIPS 2015 meeting there, more precisely for the workshops of December 11 and 12, 2015, on probabilistic numerics and ABC [à Montréal]. I was invited to give the first talk by the organisers of the NIPS workshop on probabilistic numerics, presumably to present a contrapuntal perspective on this mix of Bayesian inference with numerical issues, following my somewhat critical posts on the topic. And I also plan to attend some lectures in the (second) NIPS workshop on ABC methods. Which does not leave much free space for yet another workshop on Approximate Bayesian Inference! The day after, while I am flying back to London, there will be a workshop on scalable Monte Carlo. All workshops are calling for contributed papers to be presented during central poster sessions. To be submitted to abcinmontreal@gmail.com and to probnum@gmail.com and to aabi2015. Before October 16.

Funny enough, I got a joking email from Brad, bemoaning my traitorous participation to the workshop on probabilistic numerics because of its “anti-MCMC” agenda, reflected in the summary:

“Integration is the central numerical operation required for Bayesian machine learning (in the form of marginalization and conditioning). Sampling algorithms still abound in this area, although it has long been known that Monte Carlo methods are fundamentally sub-optimal. The challenges for the development of better performing integration methods are mostly algorithmic. Moreover, recent algorithms have begun to outperform MCMC and its siblings, in wall-clock time, on realistic problems from machine learning.

The workshop will review the existing, by now quite strong, theoretical case against the use of random numbers for integration, discuss recent algorithmic developments, relationships between conceptual approaches, and highlight central research challenges going forward.”

Position that I hope to water down in my talk! In any case,

Je veux revoir le long désert
Des rues qui n’en finissent pas
Qui vont jusqu’au bout de l’hiver
Sans qu’il y ait trace de pas

Foundations of Statistical Algorithms [book review]

Posted in Books, Linux, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2014 by xi'an

There is computational statistics and there is statistical computing. And then there is statistical algorithmic. Not the same thing, by far. This 2014 book by Weihs, Mersman and Ligges, from TU Dortmund, the later being also a member of the R Core team, stands at one end of this wide spectrum of techniques required by modern statistical analysis. In short, it provides the necessary skills to construct statistical algorithms and hence to contribute to statistical computing. And I wish I had the luxury to teach from Foundations of Statistical Algorithms to my graduate students, if only we could afford an extra yearly course…

“Our aim is to enable the reader (…) to quickly understand the main ideas of modern numerical algorithms [rather] than having to memorize the current, and soon to be outdated, set of popular algorithms from computational statistics.”(p.1)

The book is built around the above aim, first presenting the reasons why computers can produce answers different from what we want, using least squares as a mean to check for (in)stability, then second establishing the ground forFishman Monte Carlo methods by discussing (pseudo-)random generation, including MCMC algorithms, before moving in third to bootstrap and resampling techniques, and  concluding with parallelisation and scalability. The text is highly structured, with frequent summaries, a division of chapters all the way down to sub-sub-sub-sections, an R implementation section in each chapter, and a few exercises. Continue reading

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