Minimization of Continuous Bethe Approximations: A Positive Variation

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 25 (NIPS 2012)

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Jason Pacheco, Erik Sudderth


We develop convergent minimization algorithms for Bethe variational approximations which explicitly constrain marginal estimates to families of valid distributions. While existing message passing algorithms define fixed point iterations corresponding to stationary points of the Bethe free energy, their greedy dynamics do not distinguish between local minima and maxima, and can fail to converge. For continuous estimation problems, this instability is linked to the creation of invalid marginal estimates, such as Gaussians with negative variance. Conversely, our approach leverages multiplier methods with well-understood convergence properties, and uses bound projection methods to ensure that marginal approximations are valid at all iterations. We derive general algorithms for discrete and Gaussian pairwise Markov random fields, showing improvements over standard loopy belief propagation. We also apply our method to a hybrid model with both discrete and continuous variables, showing improvements over expectation propagation.