Variational Sparse Coding

Francesco Tonolini, Bjorn Sand Jensen, Roderick Murray-Smith

Sep 27, 2018 ICLR 2019 Conference Blind Submission readers: everyone Show Bibtex
  • Abstract: Variational auto-encoders (VAEs) offer a tractable approach when performing approximate inference in otherwise intractable generative models. However, standard VAEs often produce latent codes that are disperse and lack interpretability, thus making the resulting representations unsuitable for auxiliary tasks (e.g. classification) and human interpretation. We address these issues by merging ideas from variational auto-encoders and sparse coding, and propose to explicitly model sparsity in the latent space of a VAE with a Spike and Slab prior distribution. We derive the evidence lower bound using a discrete mixture recognition function thereby making approximate posterior inference as computational efficient as in the standard VAE case. With the new approach, we are able to infer truly sparse representations with generally intractable non-linear probabilistic models. We show that these sparse representations are advantageous over standard VAE representations on two benchmark classification tasks (MNIST and Fashion-MNIST) by demonstrating improved classification accuracy and significantly increased robustness to the number of latent dimensions. Furthermore, we demonstrate qualitatively that the sparse elements capture subjectively understandable sources of variation.
  • Keywords: Variational Auto-Encoders, Sparse Coding, Variational Inference
  • TL;DR: We explore the intersection of VAEs and sparse coding.
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