Reducing Reparameterization Gradient Variance

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 30 (NIPS 2017)

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Andrew Miller, Nick Foti, Alexander D'Amour, Ryan P. Adams


Optimization with noisy gradients has become ubiquitous in statistics and machine learning. Reparameterization gradients, or gradient estimates computed via the ``reparameterization trick,'' represent a class of noisy gradients often used in Monte Carlo variational inference (MCVI). However, when these gradient estimators are too noisy, the optimization procedure can be slow or fail to converge. One way to reduce noise is to generate more samples for the gradient estimate, but this can be computationally expensive. Instead, we view the noisy gradient as a random variable, and form an inexpensive approximation of the generating procedure for the gradient sample. This approximation has high correlation with the noisy gradient by construction, making it a useful control variate for variance reduction. We demonstrate our approach on a non-conjugate hierarchical model and a Bayesian neural net where our method attained orders of magnitude (20-2{,}000$\times$) reduction in gradient variance resulting in faster and more stable optimization.