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Oral: Probabilistic Methods

Auditorium 1
Thu 2 May 6:45 a.m. PDT — 8 a.m. PDT
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Neural McKean-Vlasov Processes: Distributional Dependence in Diffusion Processes

Haoming Yang · Ali Hasan · Yuting Ng · Vahid Tarokh

McKean-Vlasov stochastic differential equations (MV-SDEs) provide a mathematical description of the behavior of an infinite number of interacting particles by imposing a dependence on the particle density.We study the influence of explicitly including distributional information in the parameterization of the SDE.We propose a series of semi-parametric methods for representing MV-SDEs, and corresponding estimators for inferring parameters from data based on the properties of the MV-SDE.We analyze the characteristics of the different architectures and estimators, and consider their applicability in relevant machine learning problems.We empirically compare the performance of the different architectures and estimators on real and synthetic datasets for time series and probabilistic modeling.The results suggest that explicitly including distributional dependence in the parameterization of the SDE is effective in modeling temporal data with interaction under an exchangeability assumption while maintaining strong performance for standard It\^o-SDEs due to the richer class of probability flows associated with MV-SDEs.

Reparameterized Variational Rejection Sampling

Martin Jankowiak · Du Phan

Traditional approaches to variational inference rely on parametric families of variational distributions, with the choice of family playing a critical role in determining the accuracy of the resulting posterior approximation. Simple mean-field families often lead to poor approximations, while rich families of distributions like normalizing flows can be difficult to optimize and usually do not incorporate the known structure of the target distribution due to their black-box nature. To expand the space of flexible variational families, we revisit Variational Rejection Sampling (VRS) [Grover et al., 2018], which combines a parametric proposal distribution with rejection sampling to define a rich non-parametric family of distributions that explicitly utilizes the known target distribution. By introducing a low-variance reparameterized gradient estimator for the parameters of the proposal distribution, we make VRS an attractive inference strategy for models with continuous latent variables. We argue theoretically and demonstrate empirically that the resulting method--Reparameterized Variational Rejection Sampling (RVRS)--offers an attractive trade-off between computational cost and inference fidelity. In experiments we show that our method performs well in practice and that it is well suited for black-box inference, especially for models with local latent variables.

Intrinsic Gaussian Vector Fields on Manifolds

Daniel Robert-Nicoud · Andreas Krause · Slava Borovitskiy

Various applications ranging from robotics to climate science require modeling signals on non-Euclidean domains, such as the sphere. Gaussian process models on manifolds have recently been proposed for such tasks, in particular when uncertainty quantification is needed. In the manifold setting, vector-valued signals can behave very differently from scalar-valued ones, with much of the progress so far focused on modeling the latter. The former, however, are crucial for many applications, such as modeling wind speeds or force fields of unknown dynamical systems. In this paper, we propose novel Gaussian process models for vector-valued signals on manifolds that are intrinsically defined and account for the geometry of the space in consideration. We provide computational primitives needed to deploy the resulting Hodge-Matérn Gaussian vector fields on the two-dimensional sphere and the hypertori. Further, we highlight two generalization directions: discrete two-dimensional meshes and "ideal" manifolds like hyperspheres, Lie groups, and homogeneous spaces. Finally, we show that our Gaussian vector fields constitute considerably more refined inductive biases than the extrinsic fields proposed before.

Generative Flow Networks as Entropy-Regularized RL

Daniil Tiapkin · Nikita Morozov · Alexey Naumov · Dmitry Vetrov

The recently proposed generative flow networks (GFlowNets) are a method of training a policy to sample compositional discrete objects with probabilities proportional to a given reward via a sequence of actions. GFlowNets exploit the sequential nature of the problem, drawing parallels with reinforcement learning (RL). Our work extends the connection between RL and GFlowNets to a general case. We demonstrate how the task of learning a generative flow network can be efficiently redefined as an entropy-regularized RL problem with a specific reward and regularizer structure. Furthermore, we illustrate the practical efficiency of this reformulation by applying standard soft RL algorithms to GFlowNet training across several probabilistic modeling tasks. Contrary to previously reported results, we show that entropic RL approaches can be competitive against established GFlowNet training methods. This perspective opens a direct path for integrating RL principles into the realm of generative flow networks.

Robust Approximate Sampling via Stochastic Gradient Barker Dynamics

Lorenzo Mauri · Giacomo Zanella

Stochastic Gradient (SG) Markov Chain Monte Carlo algorithms (MCMC) are popular algorithms for Bayesian sampling in the presence of large datasets. However, they come with little theoretical guarantees and assessing their empirical performances is non-trivial. In such context, it is crucial to develop algorithms that are robust to the choice of hyperparameters and to gradients heterogeneity since, in practice, both the choice of step-size and behaviour of target gradients induce hard-to-control biases in the invariant distribution. In this work we introduce the stochastic gradient Barker dynamics (SGBD) algorithm, extending the recently developed Barker MCMC scheme, a robust alternative to Langevin-based sampling algorithms, to the stochastic gradient framework. We characterize the impact of stochastic gradients on the Barker transition mechanism and develop a bias-corrected version that, under suitable assumptions, eliminates the error due to the gradient noise in the proposal. We illustrate the performance on a number of high-dimensional examples, showing that SGBD is more robust to hyperparameter tuning and to irregular behavior of the target gradients compared to the popular stochastic gradient Langevin dynamics algorithm.