Tensor Monte Carlo: Particle Methods for the GPU era

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

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Laurence Aitchison


Multi-sample, importance-weighted variational autoencoders (IWAE) give tighter bounds and more accurate uncertainty estimates than variational autoencoders (VAEs) trained with a standard single-sample objective. However, IWAEs scale poorly: as the latent dimensionality grows, they require exponentially many samples to retain the benefits of importance weighting. While sequential Monte-Carlo (SMC) can address this problem, it is prohibitively slow because the resampling step imposes sequential structure which cannot be parallelised, and moreover, resampling is non-differentiable which is problematic when learning approximate posteriors. To address these issues, we developed tensor Monte-Carlo (TMC) which gives exponentially many importance samples by separately drawing $K$ samples for each of the $n$ latent variables, then averaging over all $K^n$ possible combinations. While the sum over exponentially many terms might seem to be intractable, in many cases it can be computed efficiently as a series of tensor inner-products. We show that TMC is superior to IWAE on a generative model with multiple stochastic layers trained on the MNIST handwritten digit database, and we show that TMC can be combined with standard variance reduction techniques.