skip to main content

Title: Nested Variational Inference
We develop nested variational inference (NVI), a family of methods that learn proposals for nested importance samplers by minimizing an forward or reverse KL divergence at each level of nesting. NVI is applicable to many commonly-used importance sampling strategies and provides a mechanism for learning intermediate densities, which can serve as heuristics to guide the sampler. Our experiments apply NVI to (a) sample from a multimodal distribution using a learned annealing path (b) learn heuristics that approximate the likelihood of future observations in a hidden Markov model and (c) to perform amortized inference in hierarchical deep generative models. We observe that optimizing nested objectives leads to improved sample quality in terms of log average weight and effective sample size.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Ranzato, M.; Beygelzimer, A.; Dauphin, Y.; Liang, P.S.; Wortman Vaughan, J.
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Advances in neural information processing systems
Page Range / eLocation ID:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Windecker, Saras (Ed.)
    1. The ecological and environmental science communities have embraced machine learning (ML) for empirical modelling and prediction. However, going beyond prediction to draw insights into underlying functional relationships between response variables and environmental ‘drivers’ is less straightforward. Deriving ecological insights from fitted ML models requires techniques to extract the ‘learning’ hidden in the ML models. 2. We revisit the theoretical background and effectiveness of four approaches for deriving insights from ML: ranking independent variable importance (Gini importance, GI; permutation importance, PI; split importance, SI; and conditional permutation importance, CPI), and two approaches for inference of bivariate functional relationships (partial dependence plots, PDP; and accumulated local effect plots, ALE). We also explore the use of a surrogate model for visualization and interpretation of complex multi-variate relationships between response variables and environmental drivers. We examine the challenges and opportunities for extracting ecological insights with these interpretation approaches. Specifically, we aim to improve interpretation of ML models by investigating how effectiveness relates to (a) interpretation algorithm, (b) sample size and (c) the presence of spurious explanatory variables. 3. We base the analysis on simulations with known underlying functional relationships between response and predictor variables, with added white noise and the presence of correlated but non-influential variables. The results indicate that deriving ecological insight is strongly affected by interpretation algorithm and spurious variables, and moderately impacted by sample size. Removing spurious variables improves interpretation of ML models. Meanwhile, increasing sample size has limited value in the presence of spurious variables, but increasing sample size does improves performance once spurious variables are omitted. Among the four ranking methods, SI is slightly more effective than the other methods in the presence of spurious variables, while GI and SI yield higher accuracy when spurious variables are removed. PDP is more effective in retrieving underlying functional relationships than ALE, but its reliability declines sharply in the presence of spurious variables. Visualization and interpretation of the interactive effects of predictors and the response variable can be enhanced using surrogate models, including three-dimensional visualizations and use of loess planes to represent independent variable effects and interactions. 4. Machine learning analysts should be aware that including correlated independent variables in ML models with no clear causal relationship to response variables can interfere with ecological inference. When ecological inference is important, ML models should be constructed with independent variables that have clear causal effects on response variables. While interpreting ML models for ecological inference remains challenging, we show that careful choice of interpretation methods, exclusion of spurious variables and adequate sample size can provide more and better opportunities to ‘learn from machine learning’. 
    more » « less
  2. Summary

    We propose a multi-resolution scanning approach to identifying two-sample differences. Windows of multiple scales are constructed through nested dyadic partitioning on the sample space and a hypothesis regarding the two-sample difference is defined on each window. Instead of testing the hypotheses on different windows independently, we adopt a joint graphical model, namely a Markov tree, on the null or alternative states of these hypotheses to incorporate spatial correlation across windows. The induced dependence allows borrowing strength across nearby and nested windows, which we show is critical for detecting high resolution local differences. We evaluate the performance of the method through simulation and show that it substantially outperforms other state of the art two-sample tests when the two-sample difference is local, involving only a small subset of the data. We then apply it to a flow cytometry data set from immunology, in which it successfully identifies highly local differences. In addition, we show how to control properly for multiple testing in a decision theoretic approach as well as how to summarize and report the inferred two-sample difference. We also construct hierarchical extensions of the framework to incorporate adaptivity into the construction of the scanning windows to improve inference further.

    more » « less
  3. Teeling, Emma (Ed.)
    Abstract Deciphering the evolutionary relationships of Chelicerata (arachnids, horseshoe crabs, and allied taxa) has proven notoriously difficult, due to their ancient rapid radiation and the incidence of elevated evolutionary rates in several lineages. Although conflicting hypotheses prevail in morphological and molecular data sets alike, the monophyly of Arachnida is nearly universally accepted, despite historical lack of support in molecular data sets. Some phylotranscriptomic analyses have recovered arachnid monophyly, but these did not sample all living orders, whereas analyses including all orders have failed to recover Arachnida. To understand this conflict, we assembled a data set of 506 high-quality genomes and transcriptomes, sampling all living orders of Chelicerata with high occupancy and rigorous approaches to orthology inference. Our analyses consistently recovered the nested placement of horseshoe crabs within a paraphyletic Arachnida. This result was insensitive to variation in evolutionary rates of genes, complexity of the substitution models, and alternative algorithmic approaches to species tree inference. Investigation of sources of systematic bias showed that genes and sites that recover arachnid monophyly are enriched in noise and exhibit low information content. To test the impact of morphological data, we generated a 514-taxon morphological data matrix of extant and fossil Chelicerata, analyzed in tandem with the molecular matrix. Combined analyses recovered the clade Merostomata (the marine orders Xiphosura, Eurypterida, and Chasmataspidida), but merostomates appeared nested within Arachnida. Our results suggest that morphological convergence resulting from adaptations to life in terrestrial habitats has driven the historical perception of arachnid monophyly, paralleling the history of numerous other invertebrate terrestrial groups. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Ecologists use classifications of individuals in categories to understand composition of populations and communities. These categories might be defined by demographics, functional traits, or species. Assignment of categories is often imperfect, but frequently treated as observations without error. When individuals are observed but not classified, these “partial” observations must be modified to include the missing data mechanism to avoid spurious inference.

    We developed two hierarchical Bayesian models to overcome the assumption of perfect assignment to mutually exclusive categories in the multinomial distribution of categorical counts, when classifications are missing. These models incorporate auxiliary information to adjust the posterior distributions of the proportions of membership in categories. In one model, we use an empirical Bayes approach, where a subset of data from one year serves as a prior for the missing data the next. In the other approach, we use a small random sample of data within a year to inform the distribution of the missing data.

    We performed a simulation to show the bias that occurs when partial observations were ignored and demonstrated the altered inference for the estimation of demographic ratios. We applied our models to demographic classifications of elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) to demonstrate improved inference for the proportions of sex and stage classes.

    We developed multiple modeling approaches using a generalizable nested multinomial structure to account for partially observed data that were missing not at random for classification counts. Accounting for classification uncertainty is important to accurately understand the composition of populations and communities in ecological studies.

    more » « less
  5. We propose a general method for constructing confidence sets and hypothesis tests that have finite-sample guarantees without regularity conditions. We refer to such procedures as “universal.” The method is very simple and is based on a modified version of the usual likelihood-ratio statistic that we call “the split likelihood-ratio test” (split LRT) statistic. The (limiting) null distribution of the classical likelihood-ratio statistic is often intractable when used to test composite null hypotheses in irregular statistical models. Our method is especially appealing for statistical inference in these complex setups. The method we suggest works for any parametric model and also for some nonparametric models, as long as computing a maximum-likelihood estimator (MLE) is feasible under the null. Canonical examples arise in mixture modeling and shape-constrained inference, for which constructing tests and confidence sets has been notoriously difficult. We also develop various extensions of our basic methods. We show that in settings when computing the MLE is hard, for the purpose of constructing valid tests and intervals, it is sufficient to upper bound the maximum likelihood. We investigate some conditions under which our methods yield valid inferences under model misspecification. Further, the split LRT can be used with profile likelihoods to deal with nuisance parameters, and it can also be run sequentially to yield anytime-valid P values and confidence sequences. Finally, when combined with the method of sieves, it can be used to perform model selection with nested model classes.

    more » « less