Divide and Couple: Using Monte Carlo Variational Objectives for Posterior Approximation

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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Justin Domke, Daniel R. Sheldon


Recent work in variational inference (VI) has used ideas from Monte Carlo estimation to obtain tighter lower bounds on the log-likelihood to be used as objectives for VI. However, there is not a systematic understanding of how optimizing different objectives relates to approximating the posterior distribution. Developing such a connection is important if the ideas are to be applied to inference—i.e., applications that require an approximate posterior and not just an approximation of the log-likelihood. Given a VI objective defined by a Monte Carlo estimator of the likelihood, we use a "divide and couple" procedure to identify augmented proposal and target distributions so that the gap between the VI objective and the log-likelihood is equal to the divergence between these distributions. Thus, after maximizing the VI objective, the augmented variational distribution may be used to approximate the posterior distribution.