Reparameterization Gradients through Acceptance-Rejection Sampling Algorithms

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Christian Naesseth, Francisco Ruiz, Scott Linderman, David Blei ;
Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics, PMLR 54:489-498, 2017.

Abstract

Variational inference using the reparameterization trick has enabled large-scale approximate Bayesian inference in complex probabilistic models, leveraging stochastic optimization to sidestep intractable expectations. The reparameterization trick is applicable when we can simulate a random variable by applying a differentiable deterministic function on an auxiliary random variable whose distribution is fixed. For many distributions of interest (such as the gamma or Dirichlet), simulation of random variables relies on acceptance-rejection sampling. The discontinuity introduced by the accept-reject step means that standard reparameterization tricks are not applicable. We propose a new method that lets us leverage reparameterization gradients even when variables are outputs of a acceptance-rejection sampling algorithm. Our approach enables reparameterization on a larger class of variational distributions. In several studies of real and synthetic data, we show that the variance of the estimator of the gradient is significantly lower than other state-of-the-art methods. This leads to faster convergence of stochastic gradient variational inference.

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