Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)
Heiko Zimmermann, Hao Wu, Babak Esmaeili, Jan-Willem van de Meent
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.