Reparameterization Gradient for Non-differentiable Models

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

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Wonyeol Lee, Hangyeol Yu, Hongseok Yang


We present a new algorithm for stochastic variational inference that targets at models with non-differentiable densities. One of the key challenges in stochastic variational inference is to come up with a low-variance estimator of the gradient of a variational objective. We tackle the challenge by generalizing the reparameterization trick, one of the most effective techniques for addressing the variance issue for differentiable models, so that the trick works for non-differentiable models as well. Our algorithm splits the space of latent variables into regions where the density of the variables is differentiable, and their boundaries where the density may fail to be differentiable. For each differentiable region, the algorithm applies the standard reparameterization trick and estimates the gradient restricted to the region. For each potentially non-differentiable boundary, it uses a form of manifold sampling and computes the direction for variational parameters that, if followed, would increase the boundary’s contribution to the variational objective. The sum of all the estimates becomes the gradient estimate of our algorithm. Our estimator enjoys the reduced variance of the reparameterization gradient while remaining unbiased even for non-differentiable models. The experiments with our preliminary implementation confirm the benefit of reduced variance and unbiasedness.