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# GFlowNet-EM for Learning Compositional Latent Variable Models

*Proceedings of the 40th International Conference on Machine Learning*, PMLR 202:13528-13549, 2023.

#### Abstract

Latent variable models (LVMs) with discrete compositional latents are an important but challenging setting due to a combinatorially large number of possible configurations of the latents. A key tradeoff in modeling the posteriors over latents is between expressivity and tractable optimization. For algorithms based on expectation-maximization (EM), the E-step is often intractable without restrictive approximations to the posterior. We propose the use of GFlowNets, algorithms for sampling from an unnormalized density by learning a stochastic policy for sequential construction of samples, for this intractable E-step. By training GFlowNets to sample from the posterior over latents, we take advantage of their strengths as amortized variational inference algorithms for complex distributions over discrete structures. Our approach, GFlowNet-EM, enables the training of expressive LVMs with discrete compositional latents, as shown by experiments on non-context-free grammar induction and on images using discrete variational autoencoders (VAEs) without conditional independence enforced in the encoder.