UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Locally-adaptive boosting variational inference Di-Luvi Martinez, Gian Carlo


Boosting variational inference (BVI) approximates Bayesian posterior distributions by iteratively building a mixture of components. However, BVI requires greedily optimizing the next component—an optimization problem that becomes increasingly computationally expensive as more components are added to the mixture. Furthermore, previous work has only used simple (i.e., Gaussian) component distributions; in practice, many of these components are needed to obtain a reasonable approximation. These shortcomings can be addressed by considering components that adapt to the target density. However, natural choices such as MCMC chains do not have tractable densities and thus require a density-free divergence for training. As a first contribution, we show that the kernelized Stein discrepancy—which to the best of our knowledge is the only density-free divergence feasible for VI—cannot detect when an approximation is missing modes of the target density. Hence, it is not suitable for boosting components with intractable densities. As a second contribution, we develop locally-adaptive boosting variational inference (LBVI), in which each component distribution is a Sequential Monte Carlo (SMC) sampler, i.e., a tempered version of the posterior initialized at a given simple reference distribution. Instead of greedily optimizing the next component, we greedily choose to add components to the mixture and perturb their adaptivity, thereby causing them to locally converge to the target density; this results in refined approximations with considerably fewer components. Moreover, because SMC components have tractable density estimates, LBVI can be used with common divergences (such as the Kullback–Leibler divergence) for model learning. Experiments show that, when compared to previous BVI methods, LBVI produces reliable inference with fewer components and in less computation time.

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