Bouchacourt, Diane, Tomioka, Ryota, Nowozin, Sebastian

We would like to learn a representation of the data which decomposes an observation into factors of variation which we can independently control. Specifically, we want to use minimal supervision to learn a latent representation that reflects the semantics behind a specific grouping of the data, where within a group the samples share a common factor of variation. For example, consider a collection of face images grouped by identity. We wish to anchor the semantics of the grouping into a relevant and disentangled representation that we can easily exploit. However, existing deep probabilistic models often assume that the observations are independent and identically distributed. We present the Multi-Level Variational Autoencoder (ML-VAE), a new deep probabilistic model for learning a disentangled representation of a set of grouped observations. The ML-VAE separates the latent representation into semantically meaningful parts by working both at the group level and the observation level, while retaining efficient test-time inference. Quantitative and qualitative evaluations show that the ML-VAE model (i) learns a semantically meaningful disentanglement of grouped data, (ii) enables manipulation of the latent representation, and (iii) generalises to unseen groups.

Hybrid continuous-discrete models naturally represent many real-world applications in robotics, finance, and environmental engineering. Inference with large-scale models is challenging because relational structures deteriorate rapidly during inference with observations. The main contribution of this paper is an efficient relational variational inference algorithm that factors largescale probability models into simpler variational models, composed of mixtures of iid (Bernoulli) random variables. The algorithm takes probability relational models of largescale hybrid systems and converts them to a close-to-optimal variational models. Then, it efficiently calculates marginal probabilities on the variational models by using a latent (or lifted) variable elimination or a lifted stochastic sampling. This inference is unique because it maintains the relational structure upon individual observations and during inference steps.

Zheng, Guoqing, Yang, Yiming, Carbonell, Jaime

Variational inference for latent variable models is prevalent in various machine learning problems, typically solved by maximizing the Evidence Lower Bound (ELBO) of the true data likelihood with respect to a variational distribution. However, freely enriching the family of variational distribution is challenging since the ELBO requires variational likelihood evaluations of the latent variables. In this paper, we propose a novel framework to enrich the variational family based on an alternative lower bound, by introducing auxiliary random variables to the variational distribution only. While offering a much richer family of complex variational distributions, the resulting inference network is likelihood almost free in the sense that only the latent variables require evaluations from simple likelihoods and samples from all the auxiliary variables are sufficient for maximum likelihood inference. We show that the proposed approach is essentially optimizing a probabilistic mixture of ELBOs, thus enriching modeling capacity and enhancing robustness. It outperforms state-of-the-art methods in our experiments on several density estimation tasks.

Ranganath, Rajesh, Altosaar, Jaan, Tran, Dustin, Blei, David M.

Variational inference is an umbrella term for algorithms which cast Bayesian inference as optimization. Classically, variational inference uses the Kullback-Leibler divergence to define the optimization. Though this divergence has been widely used, the resultant posterior approximation can suffer from undesirable statistical properties. To address this, we reexamine variational inference from its roots as an optimization problem. We use operators, or functions of functions, to design variational objectives. As one example, we design a variational objective with a Langevin-Stein operator. We develop a black box algorithm, operator variational inference (OPVI), for optimizing any operator objective. Importantly, operators enable us to make explicit the statistical and computational tradeoffs for variational inference. We can characterize different properties of variational objectives, such as objectives that admit data subsampling---allowing inference to scale to massive data---as well as objectives that admit variational programs---a rich class of posterior approximations that does not require a tractable density. We illustrate the benefits of OPVI on a mixture model and a generative model of images.

Ranganath, Rajesh, Tran, Dustin, Altosaar, Jaan, Blei, David