Simple, Distributed, and Accelerated Probabilistic Programming

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 31 (NeurIPS 2018)

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Dustin Tran, Matthew W. Hoffman, Dave Moore, Christopher Suter, Srinivas Vasudevan, Alexey Radul


We describe a simple, low-level approach for embedding probabilistic programming in a deep learning ecosystem. In particular, we distill probabilistic programming down to a single abstraction—the random variable. Our lightweight implementation in TensorFlow enables numerous applications: a model-parallel variational auto-encoder (VAE) with 2nd-generation tensor processing units (TPUv2s); a data-parallel autoregressive model (Image Transformer) with TPUv2s; and multi-GPU No-U-Turn Sampler (NUTS). For both a state-of-the-art VAE on 64x64 ImageNet and Image Transformer on 256x256 CelebA-HQ, our approach achieves an optimal linear speedup from 1 to 256 TPUv2 chips. With NUTS, we see a 100x speedup on GPUs over Stan and 37x over PyMC3.