Practical Variational Inference for Neural Networks

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 24 (NIPS 2011)

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Alex Graves


Variational methods have been previously explored as a tractable approximation to Bayesian inference for neural networks. However the approaches proposed so far have only been applicable to a few simple network architectures. This paper introduces an easy-to-implement stochastic variational method (or equivalently, minimum description length loss function) that can be applied to most neural networks. Along the way it revisits several common regularisers from a variational perspective. It also provides a simple pruning heuristic that can both drastically reduce the number of network weights and lead to improved generalisation. Experimental results are provided for a hierarchical multidimensional recurrent neural network applied to the TIMIT speech corpus.