Auxiliary variable Markov chain Monte Carlo methods
Graham, Matthew McKenzie
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Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods are a widely applicable class of algorithms for estimating integrals in statistical inference problems. A common approach in MCMC methods is to introduce additional auxiliary variables into the Markov chain state and perform transitions in the joint space of target and auxiliary variables. In this thesis we consider novel methods for using auxiliary variables within MCMC methods to allow approximate inference in otherwise intractable models and to improve sampling performance in models exhibiting challenging properties such as multimodality. We first consider the pseudo-marginal framework. This extends the Metropolis–Hastings algorithm to cases where we only have access to an unbiased estimator of the density of target distribution. The resulting chains can sometimes show ‘sticking’ behaviour where long series of proposed updates are rejected. Further the algorithms can be difficult to tune and it is not immediately clear how to generalise the approach to alternative transition operators. We show that if the auxiliary variables used in the density estimator are included in the chain state it is possible to use new transition operators such as those based on slice-sampling algorithms within a pseudo-marginal setting. This auxiliary pseudo-marginal approach leads to easier to tune methods and is often able to improve sampling efficiency over existing approaches. As a second contribution we consider inference in probabilistic models defined via a generative process with the probability density of the outputs of this process only implicitly defined. The approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) framework allows inference in such models when conditioning on the values of observed model variables by making the approximation that generated observed variables are ‘close’ rather than exactly equal to observed data. Although making the inference problem more tractable, the approximation error introduced in ABC methods can be difficult to quantify and standard algorithms tend to perform poorly when conditioning on high dimensional observations. This often requires further approximation by reducing the observations to lower dimensional summary statistics. We show how including all of the random variables used in generating model outputs as auxiliary variables in a Markov chain state can allow the use of more efficient and robust MCMC methods such as slice sampling and Hamiltonian Monte Carlo (HMC) within an ABC framework. In some cases this can allow inference when conditioning on the full set of observed values when standard ABC methods require reduction to lower dimensional summaries for tractability. Further we introduce a novel constrained HMC method for performing inference in a restricted class of differentiable generative models which allows conditioning the generated observed variables to be arbitrarily close to observed data while maintaining computational tractability. As a final topicwe consider the use of an auxiliary temperature variable in MCMC methods to improve exploration of multimodal target densities and allow estimation of normalising constants. Existing approaches such as simulated tempering and annealed importance sampling use temperature variables which take on only a discrete set of values. The performance of these methods can be sensitive to the number and spacing of the temperature values used, and the discrete nature of the temperature variable prevents the use of gradient-based methods such as HMC to update the temperature alongside the target variables. We introduce new MCMC methods which instead use a continuous temperature variable. This both removes the need to tune the choice of discrete temperature values and allows the temperature variable to be updated jointly with the target variables within a HMC method.