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# Provably Scalable Black-Box Variational Inference with Structured Variational Families

*Proceedings of the 41st International Conference on Machine Learning*, PMLR 235:24896-24931, 2024.

#### Abstract

Variational families with full-rank covariance approximations are known not to work well in black-box variational inference (BBVI), both empirically and theoretically. In fact, recent computational complexity results for BBVI have established that full-rank variational families scale poorly with the dimensionality of the problem compared to

*e.g.*mean-field families. This is particularly critical to hierarchical Bayesian models with local variables; their dimensionality increases with the size of the datasets. Consequently, one gets an iteration complexity with an explicit $\mathcal{O}(N^2)$ dependence on the dataset size $N$. In this paper, we explore a theoretical middle ground*between*mean-field variational families and full-rank families:*structured*variational families. We rigorously prove that certain scale matrix structures can achieve a better iteration complexity of $\mathcal{O}\left(N\right)$, implying better scaling with respect to $N$. We empirically verify our theoretical results on large-scale hierarchical models.