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Workshop: Meta-Learning

Prior-guided Bayesian Optimization

Artur Souza


While Bayesian Optimization (BO) is a very popular method for optimizing expensive black-box functions, it fails to leverage the knowledge of domain experts. This causes BO to waste function evaluations on bad design choices (e.g., machine learning hyperparameters) that the expert already knows to work poorly. To address this issue, we introduce Prior-guided Bayesian Optimization (PrBO). PrBO allows users to transfer their knowledge into the optimization process in the form of priors about which parts of the input space will yield the best performance, rather than BO’s standard priors over functions (which are much less intuitive for users). PrBO then combines these priors with BO’s standard probabilistic model to form a pseudo-posterior used to select which points to evaluate next. We show that PrBO is around 12x faster than state-of-the-art methods without user priors and 10,000x faster than random search on a common suite of benchmarks. PrBO also converges faster even if the user priors are not entirely accurate and robustly recovers from misleading priors.

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