Stable Robbins-Monro approximations through stochastic proximal updates Machine Learning

The need for parameter estimation with massive data has reinvigorated interest in iterative estimation procedures. Stochastic approximations, such as stochastic gradient descent, are at the forefront of this recent development because they yield simple, generic, and extremely fast iterative estimation procedures. Such stochastic approximations, however, are often numerically unstable. As a consequence, current practice has turned to proximal operators, which can induce stable parameter updates within iterations. While the majority of classical iterative estimation procedures are subsumed by the framework of Robbins and Monro (1951), there is no such generalization for stochastic approximations with proximal updates. In this paper, we conceptualize a general stochastic approximation method with proximal updates. This method can be applied even in situations where the analytical form of the objective is not known, and so it generalizes many stochastic gradient procedures with proximal operators currently in use. Our theoretical analysis indicates that the proposed method has important stability benefits over the classical stochastic approximation method. Exact instantiations of the proposed method are challenging, but we show that approximate instantiations lead to procedures that are easy to implement, and still dominate classical procedures by achieving numerical stability without tradeoffs. This last advantage is akin to that seen in deterministic proximal optimization, where the framework is typically impossible to instantiate exactly, but where approximate instantiations lead to new optimization procedures that dominate classical ones.

A Stochastic approximation method for inference in probabilistic graphical models

Neural Information Processing Systems

We describe a new algorithmic framework for inference in probabilistic models, and apply it to inference for latent Dirichlet allocation. Our framework adopts the methodology of variational inference, but unlike existing variational methods such as mean field and expectation propagation it is not restricted to tractable classes of approximating distributions. Our approach can also be viewed as a sequential Monte Carlo (SMC) method, but unlike existing SMC methods there is no need to design the artificial sequence of distributions. Notably, our framework offers a principled means to exchange the variance of an importance sampling estimate for the bias incurred through variational approximation. Experiments on a challenging inference problem in population genetics demonstrate improvements in stability and accuracy over existing methods, and at a comparable cost.

Stochastic Approximation Algorithms for Principal Component Analysis Machine Learning

Principal Component Analysis is a novel way of of dimensionality reduction. This problem essentially boils down to finding the top k eigen vectors of the data covariance matrix. A considerable amount of literature is found on algorithms meant to do so such as an online method be Warmuth and Kuzmin, Matrix Stochastic Gradient by Arora, Oja's method and many others. In this paper we see some of these stochastic approaches to the PCA optimization problem and comment on their convergence and runtime to obtain an epsilon sub-optimal solution. We revisit convex relaxation based methods for stochastic optimization of principal component analysis. While methods that directly solve the non convex problem have been shown to be optimal in terms of statistical and computational efficiency, the methods based on convex relaxation have been shown to enjoy comparable, or even superior, empirical performance. This motivates the need for a deeper formal understanding of the latter.

Finite-Time Error Bounds For Linear Stochastic Approximation and TD Learning Machine Learning

We consider the dynamics of a linear stochastic approximation algorithm driven by Markovian noise, and derive finite-time bounds on the moments of the error, i.e., deviation of the output of the algorithm from the equilibrium point of an associated ordinary differential equation (ODE). To obtain finite-time bounds on the mean-square error in the case of constant step-size algorithms, our analysis uses Stein's method to identify a Lyapunov function that can potentially yield good steady-state bounds, and uses this Lyapunov function to obtain finite-time bounds by mimicking the corresponding steps in the analysis of the associated ODE. We also provide a comprehensive treatment of the moments of the square of the 2-norm of the approximation error. Our analysis yields the following results: (i) for a given step-size, we show that the lower-order moments can be made small as a function of the step-size and can be upper-bounded by the moments of a Gaussian random variable; (ii) we show that the higher-order moments beyond a threshold may be infinite in steady-state; and (iii) we characterize the number of samples needed for the finite-time bounds to be of the same order as the steady-state bounds. As a by-product of our analysis, we also solve the open problem of obtaining finite-time bounds for the performance of temporal difference learning algorithms with linear function approximation and a constant step-size, without requiring a projection step or an i.i.d. noise assumption.

Gradient Estimation with Simultaneous Perturbation and Compressive Sensing Machine Learning

This paper aims at achieving a "good" estimator for the gradient of a function on a high-dimensional space. Often such functions are not sensitive in all coordinates and the gradient of the function is almost sparse. We propose a method for gradient estimation that combines ideas from Spall's Simultaneous Perturbation Stochastic Approximation with compressive sensing. The aim is to obtain "good" estimator without too many function evaluations. Application to estimating gradient outer product matrix as well as standard optimization problems are illustrated via simulations.