Finite Sample Bounds and Path Selection for Sequential Monte Carlo

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Sequential Monte Carlo (SMC) samplers have received attention as an alternative to Markov chain Monte Carlo for Bayesian inference problems due to their strong empirical performance on difficult multimodal problems, natural synergy with parallel computing environments, and accuracy when estimating ratios of normalizing constants. However, while these properties have been demonstrated empirically, the extent of these advantages remain unexplored theoretically. Typical convergence results for SMC are limited to root N results; they obscure the relationship between the algorithmic factors (weights, Markov kernels, target distribution) and the error of the resulting estimator. This limitation makes it difficult to compare SMC to other estimation methods and challenging to design efficient SMC algorithms from a theoretical perspective.

In this thesis, we provide conditions under which SMC provides a randomized approximation scheme, showing how to choose the number of of particles and Markov kernel transitions at each SMC step in order to ensure an accurate approximation with bounded error. These conditions rely on the sequence of SMC interpolating distributions and the warm mixing times of the Markov kernels, explicitly relating the algorithmic choices to the error of the SMC estimate. This allows us to provide finite-sample complexity bounds for SMC in a variety of settings, including finite state-spaces, product spaces, and log-concave target distributions.

A key advantage of this approach is that the bounds provide insight into the selection of efficient sequences of SMC distributions. When the target distribution is spherical Gaussian or log-concave, we show that judicious selection of interpolating distributions results in an SMC algorithm with a smaller complexity bound than MCMC. These results are used to motivate the use of a well known SMC algorithm that adaptively chooses interpolating distributions. We provide conditions under which the adaptive algorithm gives a randomized approximation scheme, providing theoretical validation for the automatic selection of SMC distributions.

Selecting efficient sequences of distributions is a problem that also arises in the estimation of normalizing constants using path sampling. In the final chapter of this thesis, we develop automatic methods for choosing sequences of distributions that provide low-variance path sampling estimators. These approaches are motived by properties of the theoretically optimal, lowest-variance path, which is given by the geodesic of the Riemann manifold associated with the path sampling family. For one dimensional paths we provide a greedy approach to step size selection that has good empirical performance. For multidimensional paths, we present an approach using Gaussian process emulation that efficiently finds low variance paths in this more complicated setting.





Marion, Joseph (2018). Finite Sample Bounds and Path Selection for Sequential Monte Carlo. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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