Amortized Variational Inference for Simple Hierarchical Models

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)

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Abhinav Agrawal, Justin Domke


It is difficult to use subsampling with variational inference in hierarchical models since the number of local latent variables scales with the dataset. Thus, inference in hierarchical models remains a challenge at a large scale. It is helpful to use a variational family with a structure matching the posterior, but optimization is still slow due to the huge number of local distributions. Instead, this paper suggests an amortized approach where shared parameters simultaneously represent all local distributions. This approach is similarly accurate as using a given joint distribution (e.g., a full-rank Gaussian) but is feasible on datasets that are several orders of magnitude larger. It is also dramatically faster than using a structured variational distribution.