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Adaptive importance sampling for heavy-tailed distributions via $\alpha$-divergence minimization

Thomas Guilmeau · Nicola Branchini · Emilie Chouzenoux · Victor Elvira

MR1 & MR2 - Number 165
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Sat 4 May 6 a.m. PDT — 8:30 a.m. PDT

Abstract: Adaptive importance sampling (AIS) algorithms are widely used to approximate expectations with respect to complicated target probability distributions. When the target has heavy tails, existing AIS algorithms can provide inconsistent estimators or exhibit slow convergence, as they often neglect the target’s tail behaviour. To avoid this pitfall, we propose an AIS algorithm that approximates the target by Student-t proposal distributions. We adapt location and scale parameters by matching the escort moments - which are defined even for heavy-tailed distributions - of the target and proposal. These updates minimize the $\alpha$-divergence between the target and the proposal, thereby connecting with variational inference. We then show that the $\alpha$-divergence can be approximated by a generalized notion of effective sample size and leverage this new perspective to adapt the tail parameter with Bayesian optimization. We demonstrate the efficacy of our approach through applications to synthetic targets and a Bayesian Student-t regression task on a real example with clinical trial data.

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