Variational Inference with Gaussian Score Matching

Chirag Modi · Robert Gower · Charles Margossian · Yuling Yao · David Blei · Lawrence Saul

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #1222
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Tue 12 Dec 3:15 p.m. PST — 5:15 p.m. PST


Variational inference (VI) is a method to approximate the computationally intractable posterior distributions that arise in Bayesian statistics. Typically, VI fits a simple parametric distribution to be close to the target posterior, optimizing an appropriate objective such as the evidence lower bound (ELBO). In this work, we present a new approach to VI. Our method is based on the principle of score matching---namely, that if two distributions are equal then their score functions (i.e., gradients of the log density) are equal at every point on their support. With this principle, we develop score-matching VI, an iterative algorithm that seeks to match the scores between the variational approximation and the exact posterior. At each iteration, score-matching VI solves an inner optimization, one that minimally adjusts the current variational estimate to match the scores at a newly sampled value of the latent variables. We show that when the variational family is a Gaussian, this inner optimization enjoys a closed-form solution, which we call Gaussian score matching VI (GSM-VI). GSM-VI is a ``black box'' variational algorithm in that it only requires a differentiable joint distribution, and as such it can be applied to a wide class of models. We compare GSM-VI to black box variational inference (BBVI), which has similar requirements but instead optimizes the ELBO. We first study how GSM-VI behaves as a function of the problem dimensionality, the condition number of the target covariance matrix (when the target is Gaussian), and the degree of mismatch between the approximating and exact posterior distribution. We then study GSM-VI on a collection of real-world Bayesian inference problems from the posteriorDB database of datasets and models. We find that GSM-VI is faster than BBVI and equally or more accurate. Specifically, over a wide range of target posteriors, GSM-VI requires 10-100x fewer gradient evaluations than BBVI to obtain a comparable quality of approximation.

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