The Zig-Zag Process and Super-Efficient Sampling for Bayesian Analysis of Big Data

Time: 13:00 - 14:00 followed by refreshments

Venue: Kanaris Lecture Theatre, Manchester Museum

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Speaker: Dr Joris Bierkens - Technische Universiteit Delft

Standard MCMC methods can scale poorly to big data settings due to the need to evaluate the likelihood at each iteration. There have been a number of approximate MCMC algorithms that use sub-sampling ideas to reduce this computational burden, but with the drawback that these algorithms no longer target the true posterior distribution. We introduce a new family of Monte Carlo methods based upon a multi-dimensional version of the Zig-Zag process of (Bierkens, Roberts, 2016), a continuous time piecewise deterministic Markov process. While traditional MCMC methods are reversible by construction the Zig-Zag process offers a flexible non-reversible alternative. The dynamics of the Zig-Zag process correspond to a constant velocity model, with the velocity of the process switching at events from a point process. The rate of this point process can be related to the invariant distribution of the process. If we wish to target a given posterior distribution, then rates need to be set equal to the gradient of the log of the posterior. Unlike traditional MCMC, We show how the Zig-Zag process can be simulated without discretisation error, and give conditions for the process to be ergodic. Most importantly, we introduce a sub-sampling version of the Zig-Zag process that is an example of an exact approximate scheme. That is, if we replace the true gradient of the log posterior with an unbiased estimator, obtained by sub-sampling, then the resulting approximate process still has the posterior as its stationary distribution. Furthermore, if we use a control-variate idea to reduce the variance of our unbiased estimator, then both heuristic arguments and empirical observations show that Zig-Zag can be super-efficient: after an initial pre-processing step, essentially independent samples from the posterior distribution are obtained at a computational cost which does not depend on the size of the data.

The presentation slides from this seminar are available here