The Base Measure Problem and its Solution
Proceedings of The 24th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics, PMLR 130:3583-3591, 2021.
Probabilistic programming systems generally compute with probability density functions, leaving the base measure of each such function implicit. This mostly works, but creates problems when densities with respect to different base measures are accidentally combined or compared. Mistakes also happen when computing volume corrections for continuous changes of variables, which in general depend on the support measure. We motivate and clarify the problem in the context of a composable library of probability distributions and bijective transformations. We solve the problem by standardizing on Hausdorff measure as a base, and deriving formulas for comparing and combining mixed-dimension densities, as well as updating densities with respect to Hausdorff measure under diffeomorphic transformations. We also propose a software architecture that implements these formulas efficiently in the common case. We hope that by adopting our solution, probabilistic programming systems can become more robust and general, and make a broader class of models accessible to practitioners.