Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 29 (NIPS 2016)
Changyou Chen, Nan Ding, Chunyuan Li, Yizhe Zhang, Lawrence Carin
Stochastic gradient MCMC (SG-MCMC) has played an important role in large-scale Bayesian learning, with well-developed theoretical convergence properties. In such applications of SG-MCMC, it is becoming increasingly popular to employ distributed systems, where stochastic gradients are computed based on some outdated parameters, yielding what are termed stale gradients. While stale gradients could be directly used in SG-MCMC, their impact on convergence properties has not been well studied. In this paper we develop theory to show that while the bias and MSE of an SG-MCMC algorithm depend on the staleness of stochastic gradients, its estimation variance (relative to the expected estimate, based on a prescribed number of samples) is independent of it. In a simple Bayesian distributed system with SG-MCMC, where stale gradients are computed asynchronously by a set of workers, our theory indicates a linear speedup on the decrease of estimation variance w.r.t. the number of workers. Experiments on synthetic data and deep neural networks validate our theory, demonstrating the effectiveness and scalability of SG-MCMC with stale gradients.