Automatic structured variational inference

Stochastic variational inference offers an attractive option as a default method for differentiable probabilistic programming. However, the performance of the variational approach depends on the choice of an appropriate variational family. Here, we introduce automatic structured variational inference (ASVI), a fully automated method for constructing structured variational families, inspired by the closed-form update in conjugate Bayesian models. These convex-update families incorporate the forward pass of the input probabilistic program and can therefore capture complex statistical dependencies. Convex-update families have the same space and time complexity as the input probabilistic program and are therefore tractable for a very large family of models including both continuous and discrete variables. We validate our automatic variational method on a wide range of low- and high-dimensional inference problems. We find that ASVI provides a clear improvement in performance when compared with other popular approaches such as the mean-field approach and inverse autoregressive flows. We provide an open source implementation of ASVI in TensorFlow Probability.

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