Stochastic Gradient Descent as Approximate Bayesian Inference

Stephan Mandt, Matthew D. Hoffman, David M. Blei; 18(134):1−35, 2017.


Stochastic Gradient Descent with a constant learning rate (constant SGD) simulates a Markov chain with a stationary distribution. With this perspective, we derive several new results. (1) We show that constant SGD can be used as an approximate Bayesian posterior inference algorithm. Specifically, we show how to adjust the tuning parameters of constant SGD to best match the stationary distribution to a posterior, minimizing the Kullback-Leibler divergence between these two distributions. (2) We demonstrate that constant SGD gives rise to a new variational EM algorithm that optimizes hyperparameters in complex probabilistic models. (3) We also show how to tune SGD with momentum for approximate sampling. (4) We analyze stochastic-gradient MCMC algorithms. For Stochastic- Gradient Langevin Dynamics and Stochastic-Gradient Fisher Scoring, we quantify the approximation errors due to finite learning rates. Finally (5), we use the stochastic process perspective to give a short proof of why Polyak averaging is optimal. Based on this idea, we propose a scalable approximate MCMC algorithm, the Averaged Stochastic Gradient Sampler.


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