Schedule session 5

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232: Pairwise Supervised Hashing with Bernoulli Variational Auto-Encoder and Self-Control Gradient Estimator

Track 1: Deep generative models Siamak Zamani Dadaneh, Shahin Boluki, Mingzhang Yin, Mingyuan Zhou, Xiaoning Qian
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Semantic hashing has become a crucial component of fast similarity search in many large-scale information retrieval systems, in particular, for text data. Variational auto-encoders (VAEs) with binary latent variables as hashing codes provide state-of-the-art performance in terms of precision for document retrieval. We propose a pairwise loss function with discrete latent VAE to reward within-class similarity and between-class dissimilarity for supervised hashing. Instead of solving the optimization for training relying on existing biased gradient estimators, an unbiased, low-variance gradient estimator, which evaluates the non-differentiable loss function over two correlated sets of binary hashing codes to control the gradient variance, is adopted to optimize the hashing function to achieve superior performance compared to the state-of-the-arts, as demonstrated by our comprehensive experiments.

565: Locally Masked Convolution for Autoregressive Models

Track 1: Deep generative models Ajay Jain, Pieter Abbeel, Deepak Pathak
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

High-dimensional generative models have many applications including image compression, multimedia generation, anomaly detection and data completion. State-of-the-art estimators for natural images are autoregressive, decomposing the joint distribution over pixels into a product of conditionals parameterized by a deep neural network, e.g. a convolutional neural network such as the PixelCNN. However, PixelCNNs only model a single decomposition of the joint, and only a single generation order is efficient. For tasks such as image completion, these models are unable to use much of the observed context. To generate data in arbitrary orders, we introduce LMConv: a simple modification to the standard 2D convolution that allows arbitrary masks to be applied to the weights at each location in the image. Using LMConv, we learn an ensemble of distribution estimators that share parameters but differ in generation order, achieving improved performance on whole-image density estimation (2.89 bpd on unconditional CIFAR10), as well as globally coherent image completions. Code is available at

140: Walking on Two Legs: Learning Image Segmentation with Noisy Labels

Track 1: Deep generative models Guohua Cheng, Hongli Ji, Yan Tian
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Image segmentation automatically segments a target object in an image and has recently achieved prominent progress due to the development of deep convolutional neural networks (DCNNs). However, the quality of manual labels plays an essential role in the segmentation accuracy, while in practice it could vary a lot and in turn could substantially mislead the training process and limit the effectiveness. In this paper, we propose a novel label refinement and sample reweighting method, and a novel generative adversarial network (GAN) is introduced to fuse these two models into an integrated framework. We evaluate our approach on the publicly available datasets, and the results show our approach to be competitive when compared with other state-of-the-art approaches dealing with the noisy labels in image segmentation.

366: Adversarial Learning for 3D Matching

Track 1: Deep generative models Wei Xing, Brian Ziebart
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Structured prediction of objects in spaces that are inherently difficult to search or compactly characterize is a particularly challenging task. For example, though bipartite matchings in two dimensions can be tractably optimized and learned, the higher-dimensional generalization—3D matchings—are NP-hard to optimally obtain and the set of potential solutions cannot be compactly characterized. Though approximation is therefore necessary, prevalent structured prediction methods inherit the weaknesses they possess in the two-dimensional setting either suffering from inconsistency or intractability—even when the approximations are sufficient. In this paper, we explore extending an adversarial approach to learning bipartite matchings that avoids these weaknesses to the three dimensional setting. We assess the benefits compared to margin-based methods on a three-frame tracking problem.


451: Batch norm with entropic regularization turns deterministic autoencoders into generative models

Track 1: Deep generative models Amur Ghose, Abdullah Rashwan, Pascal Poupart
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

The variational autoencoder is a well defined deep generative model that utilizes an encoder-decoder framework where an encoding neural network outputs a non-deterministic code for reconstructing an input. The encoder achieves this by sampling from a distribution for every input, instead of outputting a deterministic code per input. The great advantage of this process is that it allows the use of the network as a generative model for sampling from the data distribution beyond provided samples for training. We show in this work that utilizing batch normalization as a source for non-determinism suffices to turn deterministic autoencoders into generative models on par with variational ones, so long as we add a suitable entropic regularization to the training objective.

517: Learning to learn generative programs with Memoised Wake-Sleep

Track 1: Deep generative models Luke Hewitt, Tuan Anh Le, Joshua Tenenbaum
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

We study a class of neuro-symbolic generative models in which neural networks are used both for inference and as priors over symbolic, data-generating programs. As generative models, these programs capture compositional structures in a naturally explainable form. To tackle the challenge of performing program induction as an ‘inner-loop’ to learning, we propose the Memoised Wake-Sleep (MWS) algorithm, which extends Wake Sleep by explicitly storing and reusing the best programs discovered by the inference network throughout training. We use MWS to learn accurate, explainable models in three challenging domains: stroke-based character modelling, cellular automata, and few-shot learning in a novel dataset of real-world string concepts.

218: Relaxed Multivariate Bernoulli Distribution and Its Applications to Deep Generative Models

Track 1: Deep generative models Xi Wang, Junming Yin
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Recent advances in variational auto-encoder (VAE) have demonstrated the possibility of approximating the intractable posterior distribution with a variational distribution parameterized by a neural network. To optimize the variational objective of VAE, the reparameterization trick is commonly applied to obtain a low-variance estimator of the gradient. The main idea of the trick is to express the variational distribution as a differentiable function of parameters and a random variable with a fixed distribution. To extend the reparameterization trick to inference involving discrete latent variables, a common approach is to use a continuous relaxation of the categorical distribution as the approximate posterior. However, when applying continuous relaxation to the multivariate cases, multiple variables are typically assumed to be independent, making it suboptimal in applications where modeling dependency is crucial to the overall performance. In this work, we propose a multivariate generalization of the Relaxed Bernoulli distribution, which can be reparameterized and can capture the correlation between variables via a Gaussian copula. We demonstrate its effectiveness in two tasks: density estimation with Bernoulli VAE and semi-supervised multi-label classification.

272: Semi-supervised Sequential Generative Models

Track 1: Deep generative models Michael Teng, Tuan Anh Le, Adam Scibior, Frank Wood
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

We introduce a novel objective for training deep generative time-series models with discrete latent variables for which supervision is only sparsely available. This instance of semi-supervised learning is challenging for existing methods, because the exponential number of possible discrete latent configurations results in high variance gradient estimators. We first overcome this problem by extending the standard semi-supervised generative modeling objective with reweighted wake-sleep. However, we find that this approach still suffers when the frequency of available labels varies between training sequences. Finally, we introduce a unified objective inspired by teacher-forcing and show that this approach is robust to variable length supervision. We call the resulting method caffeinated wake-sleep (CWS) to emphasize its additional dependence on real data. We demonstrate its effectiveness with experiments on MNIST, handwriting, and fruit fly trajectory data.

543: Stable Policy Optimization via Off-Policy Divergence Regularization

Track 2: Reinforcement learning Ahmed Touati, Amy Zhang, Joelle Pineau, Pascal Vincent
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Trust Region Policy Optimization (TRPO) and Proximal Policy Optimization (PPO) are among the most successful policy gradient approaches in deep reinforcement learning (RL). While these methods achieve state-of-the-art performance across a wide range of challenging tasks, there is room for improvement in the stabilization of the policy learning and how the off-policy data are used. In this paper we revisit the theoretical foundations of these algorithms and propose a new algorithm which stabilizes the policy improvement through a proximity term that constrains the discounted state-action visitation distribution induced by consecutive policies to be close to one another. This proximity term, expressed in terms of the divergence between the visitation distributions, is learned in an off-policy and adversarial manner. We empirically show that our proposed method can have a beneficial effect on stability and improve final performance in benchmark high-dimensional control tasks.

105: Exploration Analysis in Finite-Horizon Turn-based Stochastic Games

Track 2: Reinforcement learning Jialian Li, Yichi Zhou, Tongzheng Ren, Jun Zhu
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Exploration and exploitation trade-off is one of the key concerns in reinforcement learning. Previous work on one-player Markov Decision Processes has reached near-optimal results for both PAC and high probability regret guarantees. However, such an analysis is lacking for the more complex stochastic games with multi-players, where all players aim to find an approximate Nash Equilibrium. In this work, we address the exploration issue for the $N$-player finite-horizon turn-based stochastic games (FTSG). We propose a framework, \textit{Upper Bounding the Values for Players} (UBVP), to guide exploration in FTSGs. UBVP leverages the key insight that players choose the optimal policy conditioning on the policies of the others simultaneously; thus players can explore \textit{in the face of uncertainty} and get close to the Nash Equilibrium. Based on UBVP, we present two provable algorithms. One is \textit{Uniform}-PAC with a sample complexity of $\tilde{O}(1/\epsilon^2)$ to get an $\epsilon$-Nash Equilibrium for arbitrary $\epsilon>0$, and the other has a cumulative exploitability of $\tilde{O}(\sqrt{T})$ with high probability.

71: Regret Bounds for Decentralized Learning in Cooperative Multi-Agent Dynamical Systems

Track 2: Reinforcement learning Seyed Mohammad Asghari, Yi Ouyang, Ashutosh Nayyar
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Regret analysis is challenging in Multi-Agent Reinforcement Learning (MARL) primarily due to the dynamical environments and the decentralized information among agents. We attempt to solve this challenge in the context of decentralized learning in multi-agent linear-quadratic (LQ) dynamical systems. We begin with a simple setup consisting of two agents and two dynamically decoupled stochastic linear systems, each system controlled by an agent. The systems are coupled through a quadratic cost function. When both systems' dynamics are unknown and there is no communication among the agents, we show that no learning policy can generate sub-linear in $T$ regret, where $T$ is the time horizon. When only one system's dynamics are unknown and there is one-directional communication from the agent controlling the unknown system to the other agent, we propose a MARL algorithm based on the construction of an auxiliary single-agent LQ problem. The auxiliary single-agent problem in the proposed MARL algorithm serves as an implicit coordination mechanism among the two learning agents. This allows the agents to achieve a regret within $O(\sqrt{T})$ of the regret of the auxiliary single-agent problem. Consequently, using existing results for single-agent LQ regret, our algorithm provides a $\tilde{O}(\sqrt{T})$ regret bound. (Here $\tilde{O}(\cdot)$ hides constants and logarithmic factors). Our numerical experiments indicate that this bound is matched in practice. From the two-agent problem, we extend our results to multi-agent LQ systems with certain communication patterns which appear in vehicle platoon control.

17: Finite-sample Analysis of Greedy-GQ with Linear Function Approximation under Markovian Noise

Track 2: Reinforcement learning Yue Wang, Shaofeng Zou
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Greedy-GQ is an off-policy two timescale algorithm for optimal control in reinforcement learning. This paper develops the first finite-sample analysis for the Greedy-GQ algorithm with linear function approximation under Markovian noise. Our finite-sample analysis provides theoretical justification for choosing stepsizes for this two timescale algorithm for faster convergence in practice, and suggests a trade-off between the convergence rate and the quality of the obtained policy. Our paper extends the finite-sample analyses of two timescale reinforcement learning algorithms from policy evaluation to optimal control, which is of more practical interest. Specifically, in contrast to existing finite-sample analyses for two timescale methods, e.g., GTD, GTD2 and TDC, where their objective functions are convex, the objective function of the Greedy-GQ algorithm is non-convex. Moreover, the Greedy-GQ algorithm is also not a linear two-timescale stochastic approximation algorithm. Our techniques in this paper provide a general framework for finite-sample analysis of non-convex value-based reinforcement learning algorithms for optimal control.


355: No-regret Exploration in Contextual Reinforcement Learning

Track 2: Reinforcement learning Aditya Modi, Ambuj Tewari
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

We consider the recently proposed reinforcement learning (RL) framework of Contextual Markov Decision Processes (CMDP), where the agent interacts with a (potentially adversarial) sequence of episodic tabular MDPs. In addition, a context vector determining the MDP parameters is available to the agent at the start of each episode, thereby allowing it to learn a context-dependent near-optimal policy. In this paper, we propose a no-regret online RL algorithm in the setting where the MDP parameters are obtained from the context using generalized linear mappings (GLMs). We propose and analyze optimistic and randomized exploration methods which make (time and space) efficient online updates. The GLM based model subsumes previous work in this area and also improves previous known bounds in the special case where the contextual mapping is linear. In addition, we demonstrate a generic template to derive confidence sets using an online learning oracle and give a lower bound for the setting.

424: Dueling Posterior Sampling for Preference-Based Reinforcement Learning

Track 2: Reinforcement learning Ellen Novoseller, Yibing Wei, Yanan Sui, Yisong Yue, Joel Burdick
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

In preference-based reinforcement learning (RL), an agent interacts with the environment while receiving preferences instead of absolute feedback. While there is increasing research activity in preference-based RL, the design of formal frameworks that admit tractable theoretical analysis remains an open challenge. Building upon ideas from preference-based bandit learning and posterior sampling in RL, we present DUELING POSTERIOR SAMPLING (DPS), which employs preference-based posterior sampling to learn both the system dynamics and the underlying utility function that governs the preference feedback. As preference feedback is provided on trajectories rather than individual state-action pairs, we develop a Bayesian approach for the credit assignment problem, translating preferences to a posterior distribution over state-action reward models. We prove an asymptotic Bayesian no-regret rate for DPS with a Bayesian linear regression credit assignment model. This is the first regret guarantee for preference-based RL to our knowledge. We also discuss possible avenues for extending the proof methodology to other credit assignment models. Finally, we evaluate the approach empirically, showing competitive performance against existing baselines.

500: Provably Efficient Third-Person Imitation from Offline Observation

Track 2: Reinforcement learning Aaron Zweig, Joan Bruna
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Domain adaptation in imitation learning represents an essential step towards improving generalizability. However, even in the restricted setting of third-person imitation where transfer is between isomorphic Markov Decision Processes, there are no strong guarantees on the performance of transferred policies. We present problem-dependent, statistical learning guarantees for third-person imitation from observation in an offline setting, and a lower bound on performance in the online setting.

509: Improved Vector Pruning in Exact Algorithms for Solving POMDPs

Track 2: Reinforcement learning Eric Hansen, Thomas Bowman
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Exact dynamic programming algorithms for solving partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDPs) rely on a subroutine that removes, or “prunes,” dominated vectors from vector sets that represent piecewise-linear and convex value functions. The subroutine solves many linear programs, where the size of the linear programs is proportional to both the number of undominated vectors in the set and their dimension, which severely limits scalability. Recent work improves the performance of this subroutine by limiting the number of constraints in the linear programs it solves by incrementally generating relevant constraints. In this paper, we show how to similarly limit the number of variables. By reducing the size of the linear programs in both ways, we further improve the performance of exact algorithms for POMDPs, especially in solving problems with larger state spaces.

282: Slice Sampling for General Completely Random Measures

Track 3: Structure learning Peiyuan Zhu, Alexandre Bouchard-Cote, Trevor Campbell
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Completely random measures provide a principled approach to creating flexible unsupervised models, where the number of latent features is infinite and the number of features that influence the data grows with the size of the data set. Due to the infinity the latent features, posterior inference requires either marginalization---resulting in dependence structures that prevent efficient computation via parallelization and conjugacy---or finite truncation, which arbitrarily limits the flexibility of the model. In this paper we present a novel Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithm for posterior inference that adaptively sets the truncation level using auxiliary slice variables, enabling efficient, parallelized computation without sacrificing flexibility. In contrast to past work that achieved this on a model-by-model basis, we provide a general recipe that is applicable to the broad class of completely random measure-based priors. The efficacy of the proposed algorithm is evaluated on several popular nonparametric models, demonstrating a higher effective sample size per second compared to algorithms using marginalization as well as a higher predictive performance compared to models employing fixed truncations.

433: Permutation-Based Causal Structure Learning with Unknown Intervention Targets

Track 3: Structure learning Chandler Squires, Yuhao Wang, Caroline Uhler
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

We consider the problem of estimating causal DAG models from a mix of observational and interventional data, when the intervention targets are partially or completely unknown. This problem is highly relevant for example in genomics, since gene knockout technologies are known to have off-target effects. We characterize the interventional Markov equivalence class of DAGs that can be identified from interventional data with unknown intervention targets. In addition, we propose a provably consistent algorithm for learning the interventional Markov equivalence class from such data. The proposed algorithm greedily searches over the space of permutations to minimize a novel score function. The algorithm is nonparametric, which is particularly important for applications to genomics, where the relationships between variables are often non-linear and the distribution non-Gaussian. We demonstrate the performance of our algorithm on synthetic and biological datasets. Links to an implementation of our algorithm and to a reproducible code base for our experiments can be found at

253: Anchored Causal Inference in the Presence of Measurement Error

Track 3: Structure learning Basil Saeed, Anastasiya Belyaeva, Yuhao Wang, Caroline Uhler
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

We consider the problem of learning a causal graph in the presence of measurement error. This setting is for example common in genomics, where gene expression is corrupted through the measurement process. We develop a provably consistent procedure for estimating the causal structure in a linear Gaussian structural equation model from corrupted observations on its nodes, under a variety of measurement error models. We provide an estimator based on the method-of-moments, which can be used in conjunction with constraint-based causal structure discovery algorithms. We prove asymptotic consistency of the procedure and also discuss finite-sample considerations. We demonstrate our method’s performance through simulations and on real data, where we recover the underlying gene regulatory network from zero-inflated single-cell RNA-seq data.

474: Model-Augmented Conditional Mutual Information Estimation for Feature Selection

Track 3: Structure learning Alan Yang, AmirEmad Ghassami, Maxim Raginsky, Negar Kiyavash, Elyse Rosenbaum
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Markov blanket feature selection, while theoretically optimal, is generally challenging to implement. This is due to the shortcomings of existing approaches to conditional independence (CI) testing, which tend to struggle either with the curse of dimensionality or computational complexity. We propose a novel two-step approach which facilitates Markov blanket feature selection in high dimensions. First, neural networks are used to map features to low-dimensional representations. In the second step, CI testing is performed by applying the $k$-NN conditional mutual information estimator to the learned feature maps. The mappings are designed to ensure that mapped samples both preserve information and share similar information about the target variable if and only if they are close in Euclidean distance. We show that these properties boost the performance of the $k$-NN estimator in the second step. The performance of the proposed method is evaluated on both synthetic and real data.


446: Learning LWF Chain Graphs: A Markov Blanket Discovery Approach

Track 3: Structure learning Mohammad Ali Javidian, Marco Valtorta, Pooyan Jamshidi
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

This paper provides a graphical characterization of Markov blankets in chain graphs (CGs) under the Lauritzen-Wermuth-Frydenberg (LWF) interpretation. The characterization is different from the well-known one for Bayesian networks and generalizes it. We provide a novel scalable and sound algorithm for Markov blanket discovery in LWF CGs and prove that the Grow-Shrink algorithm, the IAMB algorithm, and its variants are still correct for Markov blanket discovery in LWF CGs under the same assumptions as for Bayesian networks. We provide a sound and scalable constraint-based framework for learning the structure of LWF CGs from faithful causally sufficient data and prove its correctness when the Markov blanket discovery algorithms in this paper are used. Our proposed algorithms compare positively/competitively against the state-of-the-art LCD (Learn Chain graphs via Decomposition) algorithm, depending on the algorithm that is used for Markov blanket discovery. Our proposed algorithms make a broad range of inference/learning problems computationally tractable and more reliable because they exploit locality.

311: Faster algorithms for Markov equivalence

Track 3: Structure learning Zhongyi Hu, Robin Evans
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Maximal ancestral graphs (MAGs) have many desirable properties; in particular they can fully describe conditional independences from directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) in the presence of latent and selection variables. However, different MAGs may encode the same conditional independences, and are said to be \emph{Markov equivalent}. Thus identifying necessary and sufficient conditions for equivalence is essential for structure learning. Several criteria for this already exist, but in this paper we give a new non-parametric characterization in terms of the heads and tails that arise in the parameterization for discrete models. We also provide a polynomial time algorithm ($O(ne^{2})$, where $n$ and $e$ are the number of vertices and edges respectively) to verify equivalence. Moreover, we extend our criterion to ADMGs and summary graphs and propose an algorithm that converts an ADMG or summary graph to an equivalent MAG in polynomial time ($O(n^{2}e)$). Hence by combining both algorithms, we can also verify equivalence between two summary graphs or ADMGs.

273: Robust contrastive learning and nonlinear ICA in the presence of outliers

Track 3: Structure learning Hiroaki Sasaki, Takashi Takenouchi, Ricardo Monti, Aapo Hyvarinen
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

Nonlinear independent component analysis (ICA) is a general framework for unsupervised representation learning, and aimed at recovering the latent variables in data. Recent practical methods perform nonlinear ICA by solving classification problems based on logistic regression. However, it is well-known that logistic regression is vulnerable to outliers, and thus the performance can be strongly weakened by outliers. In this paper, we first theoretically analyze nonlinear ICA models in the presence of outliers. Our analysis implies that estimation in nonlinear ICA can be seriously hampered when outliers exist on the tails of the (noncontaminated) target density, which happens in a typical case of contamination by outliers. We develop two robust nonlinear ICA methods based on the $\gamma$-divergence, which is a robust alternative to the KL-divergence in logistic regression. The proposed methods are theoretically shown to have desired robustness properties in the context of nonlinear ICA. We also experimentally demonstrate that the proposed methods are very robust and outperform existing methods in the presence of outliers. Finally, the proposed method is applied to ICA-based causal discovery and shown to find a plausible causal relationship on fMRI data.

117: Statistically Efficient Greedy Equivalence Search

Track 3: Structure learning Max Chickering
[Paper] [Video (inline)] [Video (new tab)]

We establish the theoretical foundation for statistically efficient variants of the Greedy Equivalence Search algorithm. If each node in the generative structure has at most $k$ parents, we show that in the limit of large data, we can recover that structure using greedy search with operator scores that condition on at most $k$ variables. We present simple synthetic experiments that compare a backward-only variant of the new algorithm to GES using finite data, showing increasing benefit of the new algorithm as the complexity of the generative model increases.


Borealis AI: Poster session in Sessions 1 and 2
Next AI: Poster session in Sessions 4 and 5
Vector Institute: Poster session in Sessions 1 and 4
Layer6: Poster session in Sessions 6