Icebreaker: Element-wise Efficient Information Acquisition with a Bayesian Deep Latent Gaussian Model

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

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Wenbo Gong, Sebastian Tschiatschek, Sebastian Nowozin, Richard E. Turner, José Miguel Hernández-Lobato, Cheng Zhang


In this paper, we address the ice-start problem, i.e., the challenge of deploying machine learning models when only a little or no training data is initially available, and acquiring each feature element of data is associated with costs. This setting is representative of the real-world machine learning applications. For instance, in the health care domain, obtaining every single measurement comes with a cost. We propose Icebreaker, a principled framework for elementwise training data acquisition. Icebreaker introduces a full Bayesian Deep Latent Gaussian Model (BELGAM) with a novel inference method, which combines recent advances in amortized inference and stochastic gradient MCMC to enable fast and accurate posterior inference. By utilizing BELGAM’s ability to fully quantify model uncertainty, we also propose two information acquisition functions for imputation and active prediction problems. We demonstrate that BELGAM performs significantly better than previous variational autoencoder (VAE) based models, when the data set size is small, using both machine learning benchmarks and real world recommender systems and health-care applications. Moreover, Icebreaker not only demonstrates improved performance compared to baselines, but it is also capable of achieving better test performance with less training data available.