Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)
Niloy Biswas, Pierre E. Jacob, Paul Vanetti
Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods generate samples that are asymptotically distributed from a target distribution of interest as the number of iterations goes to infinity. Various theoretical results provide upper bounds on the distance between the target and marginal distribution after a fixed number of iterations. These upper bounds are on a case by case basis and typically involve intractable quantities, which limits their use for practitioners. We introduce L-lag couplings to generate computable, non-asymptotic upper bound estimates for the total variation or the Wasserstein distance of general Markov chains. We apply L-lag couplings to the tasks of (i) determining MCMC burn-in, (ii) comparing different MCMC algorithms with the same target, and (iii) comparing exact and approximate MCMC. Lastly, we (iv) assess the bias of sequential Monte Carlo and self-normalized importance samplers.