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Smoothed Gradients for Stochastic Variational Inference
Stephan Mandt · David Blei

Thu Dec 11 11:00 AM -- 03:00 PM (PST) @ Level 2, room 210D #None

Stochastic variational inference (SVI) lets us scale up Bayesian computation to massive data. It uses stochastic optimization to fit a variational distribution, following easy-to-compute noisy natural gradients. As with most traditional stochastic optimization methods, SVI takes precautions to use unbiased stochastic gradients whose expectations are equal to the true gradients. In this paper, we explore the idea of following biased stochastic gradients in SVI. Our method replaces the natural gradient with a similarly constructed vector that uses a fixed-window moving average of some of its previous terms. We will demonstrate the many advantages of this technique. First, its computational cost is the same as for SVI and storage requirements only multiply by a constant factor. Second, it enjoys significant variance reduction over the unbiased estimates, smaller bias than averaged gradients, and leads to smaller mean-squared error against the full gradient. We test our method on latent Dirichlet allocation with three large corpora.

Author Information

Stephan Mandt (University of California, Irvine)

Stephan Mandt is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine. From 2016 until 2018, he was a Senior Researcher and Head of the statistical machine learning group at Disney Research, first in Pittsburgh and later in Los Angeles. He held previous postdoctoral positions at Columbia University and Princeton University. Stephan holds a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from the University of Cologne. He is a Fellow of the German National Merit Foundation, a Kavli Fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and was a visiting researcher at Google Brain. Stephan regularly serves as an Area Chair for NeurIPS, ICML, AAAI, and ICLR, and is a member of the Editorial Board of JMLR. His research is currently supported by NSF, DARPA, Intel, and Qualcomm.

David Blei (Columbia University)

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