Oral Session 4


January 8, 2014


Pierre Baldi, Roger B Grosse, Jeffrey W Miller, and Vikash K Mansinghka


UC Irvine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brown University


NIPS Award Session

Understanding Dropout – Dropout is a relatively new algorithm for training neural networks which relies on stochastically “dropping out” neurons during training in order to avoid the co-adaptation of feature detectors. We introduce a general formalism for studying dropout on either units or connections, with arbitrary probability values, and use it to analyze the averaging and regularizing properties of dropout in both linear and non-linear networks. For deep neural networks, the averaging properties of dropout are characterized by three recursive equations, including the approximation of expectations by normalized weighted geometric means. We provide estimates and bounds for these approximations and corroborate the results with simulations. We also show in simple cases how dropout performs stochastic gradient descent on a regularized error function.

Annealing between distributions by averaging moments – Many powerful Monte Carlo techniques for estimating partition functions, such as annealed importance sampling (AIS), are based on sampling from a sequence of intermediate distributions which interpolate between a tractable initial distribution and an intractable target distribution. The near-universal practice is to use geometric averages of the initial and target distributions, but alternative paths can perform substantially better. We present a novel sequence of intermediate distributions for exponential families: averaging the moments of the initial and target distributions. We derive an asymptotically optimal piecewise linear schedule for the moments path and show that it performs at least as well as geometric averages with a linear schedule. Moment averaging performs well empirically at estimating partition functions of restricted Boltzmann machines (RBMs), which form the building blocks of many deep learning models, including Deep Belief Networks and Deep Boltzmann Machines.

A simple example of Dirichlet process mixture inconsistency for the number of components – For data assumed to come from a finite mixture with an unknown number of components, it has become common to use Dirichlet process mixtures (DPMs) not only for density estimation, but also for inferences about the number of components. The typical approach is to use the posterior distribution on the number of components occurring so far — that is, the posterior on the number of clusters in the observed data. However, it turns out that this posterior is not consistent — it does not converge to the true number of components. In this note, we give an elementary demonstration of this inconsistency in what is perhaps the simplest possible setting: a DPM with normal components of unit variance, applied to data from a “mixture” with one standard normal component. Further, we find that this example exhibits severe inconsistency: instead of going to 1, the posterior probability that there is one cluster goes to 0.

Approximate Bayesian Image Interpretation using Generative Probabilistic Graphics Programs – The idea of computer vision as the Bayesian inverse problem to computer graphics has a long history and an appealing elegance, but it has proved difficult to directly implement. Instead, most vision tasks are approached via complex bottom-up processing pipelines. Here we show that it is possible to write short, simple probabilistic graphics programs that define flexible generative models and to automatically invert them to interpret real-world images. Generative probabilistic graphics programs consist of a stochastic scene generator, a renderer based on graphics software, a stochastic likelihood model linking the renderer’s output and the data, and latent variables that adjust the fidelity of the renderer and the tolerance of the likelihood model. Representations and algorithms from computer graphics, originally designed to produce high-quality images, are instead used as the deterministic backbone for highly approximate and stochastic generative models. This formulation combines probabilistic programming, computer graphics, and approximate Bayesian computation, and depends only on general-purpose, automatic inference techniques. We describe two applications: reading sequences of degraded and adversarially obscured alphanumeric characters, and inferring 3D road models from vehicle-mounted camera images. Each of the probabilistic graphics programs we present relies on under 20 lines of probabilistic code, and supports accurate, approximately Bayesian inferences about ambiguous real-world images.