Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)
Dustin Tran, Keyon Vafa, Kumar Agrawal, Laurent Dinh, Ben Poole
While normalizing flows have led to significant advances in modeling high-dimensional continuous distributions, their applicability to discrete distributions remains unknown. In this paper, we show that flows can in fact be extended to discrete events---and under a simple change-of-variables formula not requiring log-determinant-Jacobian computations. Discrete flows have numerous applications. We consider two flow architectures: discrete autoregressive flows that enable bidirectionality, allowing, for example, tokens in text to depend on both left-to-right and right-to-left contexts in an exact language model; and discrete bipartite flows that enable efficient non-autoregressive generation as in RealNVP. Empirically, we find that discrete autoregressive flows outperform autoregressive baselines on synthetic discrete distributions, an addition task, and Potts models; and bipartite flows can obtain competitive performance with autoregressive baselines on character-level language modeling for Penn Tree Bank and text8.