Learning Stochastic Feedforward Neural Networks

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 26 (NIPS 2013)

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Charlie Tang, Russ R. Salakhutdinov


Multilayer perceptrons (MLPs) or neural networks are popular models used for nonlinear regression and classification tasks. As regressors, MLPs model the conditional distribution of the predictor variables Y given the input variables X. However, this predictive distribution is assumed to be unimodal (e.g. Gaussian). For tasks such as structured prediction problems, the conditional distribution should be multimodal, forming one-to-many mappings. By using stochastic hidden variables rather than deterministic ones, Sigmoid Belief Nets (SBNs) can induce a rich multimodal distribution in the output space. However, previously proposed learning algorithms for SBNs are very slow and do not work well for real-valued data. In this paper, we propose a stochastic feedforward network with hidden layers having \emph{both deterministic and stochastic} variables. A new Generalized EM training procedure using importance sampling allows us to efficiently learn complicated conditional distributions. We demonstrate the superiority of our model to conditional Restricted Boltzmann Machines and Mixture Density Networks on synthetic datasets and on modeling facial expressions. Moreover, we show that latent features of our model improves classification and provide additional qualitative results on color images.