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VIBES: A Variational Inference Engine for Bayesian Networks

Neural Information Processing Systems

In recent years variational methods have become a popular tool for approximate inference and learning in a wide variety of probabilistic models. For each new application, however, it is currently necessary first to derive the variational update equations, and then to implement them in application-specific code. Each of these steps is both time consuming and error prone. In this paper we describe a general purpose inference engine called VIBES ('Variational Inference for Bayesian Networks') which allows a wide variety of probabilistic models to be implemented and solved variationally without recourse to coding. New models are specified either through a simple script or via a graphical interface analogous to a drawing package. VIBES then automatically generates and solves the variational equations. We illustrate the power and flexibility of VIBES using examples from Bayesian mixture modelling.


VIBES: A Variational Inference Engine for Bayesian Networks

Neural Information Processing Systems

In recent years variational methods have become a popular tool for approximate inference and learning in a wide variety of probabilistic models. For each new application, however, it is currently necessary first to derive the variational update equations, and then to implement them in application-specific code. Each of these steps is both time consuming and error prone. In this paper we describe a general purpose inference engine called VIBES ('Variational Inference for Bayesian Networks') which allows a wide variety of probabilistic models to be implemented and solved variationally without recourse to coding. New models are specified either through a simple script or via a graphical interface analogous to a drawing package. VIBES then automatically generates and solves the variational equations. We illustrate the power and flexibility of VIBES using examples from Bayesian mixture modelling.


Importance Weighted Hierarchical Variational Inference

Neural Information Processing Systems

Variational Inference is a powerful tool in the Bayesian modeling toolkit, however, its effectiveness is determined by the expressivity of the utilized variational distributions in terms of their ability to match the true posterior distribution. In turn, the expressivity of the variational family is largely limited by the requirement of having a tractable density function. To overcome this roadblock, we introduce a new family of variational upper bounds on a marginal log-density in the case of hierarchical models (also known as latent variable models). We then derive a family of increasingly tighter variational lower bounds on the otherwise intractable standard evidence lower bound for hierarchical variational distributions, enabling the use of more expressive approximate posteriors. We show that previously known methods, such as Hierarchical Variational Models, Semi-Implicit Variational Inference and Doubly Semi-Implicit Variational Inference can be seen as special cases of the proposed approach, and empirically demonstrate superior performance of the proposed method in a set of experiments.


Gamma Processes, Stick-Breaking, and Variational Inference

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

While most Bayesian nonparametric models in machine learning have focused on the Dirichlet process, the beta process, or their variants, the gamma process has recently emerged as a useful nonparametric prior in its own right. Current inference schemes for models involving the gamma process are restricted to MCMC-based methods, which limits their scalability. In this paper, we present a variational inference framework for models involving gamma process priors. Our approach is based on a novel stick-breaking constructive definition of the gamma process. We prove correctness of this stick-breaking process by using the characterization of the gamma process as a completely random measure (CRM), and we explicitly derive the rate measure of our construction using Poisson process machinery. We also derive error bounds on the truncation of the infinite process required for variational inference, similar to the truncation analyses for other nonparametric models based on the Dirichlet and beta processes. Our representation is then used to derive a variational inference algorithm for a particular Bayesian nonparametric latent structure formulation known as the infinite Gamma-Poisson model, where the latent variables are drawn from a gamma process prior with Poisson likelihoods. Finally, we present results for our algorithms on nonnegative matrix factorization tasks on document corpora, and show that we compare favorably to both sampling-based techniques and variational approaches based on beta-Bernoulli priors.


Automated Variational Inference for Gaussian Process Models

Neural Information Processing Systems

We develop an automated variational method for approximate inference in Gaussian process (GP) models whose posteriors are often intractable. Using a mixture of Gaussians as the variational distribution, we show that (i) the variational objective and its gradients can be approximated efficiently via sampling from univariate Gaussian distributions and (ii) the gradients of the GP hyperparameters can be obtained analytically regardless of the model likelihood. We further propose two instances of the variational distribution whose covariance matrices can be parametrized linearly in the number of observations. These results allow gradient-based optimization to be done efficiently in a black-box manner. Our approach is thoroughly verified on 5 models using 6 benchmark datasets, performing as well as the exact or hard-coded implementations while running orders of magnitude faster than the alternative MCMC sampling approaches.