Published on Wed Jun 27 2012

John Paisley, David Blei, Michael Jordan

Mean-field variational inference is a method for approximate Bayesian posterior inference. It approximates a full posterior distribution with afactorized set of distributions by maximizing a lower bound on the marginal likelihood.

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Mean-field variational inference is a method for approximate Bayesian posterior inference. It approximates a full posterior distribution with a factorized set of distributions by maximizing a lower bound on the marginal likelihood. This requires the ability to integrate a sum of terms in the log joint likelihood using this factorized distribution. Often not all integrals are in closed form, which is typically handled by using a lower bound. We present an alternative algorithm based on stochastic optimization that allows for direct optimization of the variational lower bound. This method uses control variates to reduce the variance of the stochastic search gradient, in which existing lower bounds can play an important role. We demonstrate the approach on two non-conjugate models: logistic regression and an approximation to the HDP.