Keywords: NCE, Noise Contrastive Estimation, Generative Models, statistical efficiency, theory
TL;DR: We show that using Gaussians as the noise distribution in Noise Contrastive Estimation can lead to exponentially bad statistical and algorithmic complexity.
Abstract: Noise Contrastive Estimation (NCE) is a popular approach for learning probability density functions parameterized up to a constant of proportionality. The main idea is to design a classification problem for distinguishing training data from samples from an (easy-to-sample) noise distribution $q$, in a manner that avoids having to calculate a partition function. It is well-known that the choice of $q$ can severely impact the computational and statistical efficiency of NCE. In practice, a common choice for $q$ is a Gaussian which matches the mean and covariance of the data. In this paper, we show that such a choice can result in an exponentially bad (in the ambient dimension) conditioning of the Hessian of the loss - even for very simple data distributions. As a consequence, both the statistical and algorithmic complexity for such a choice of $q$ will be problematic in practice - suggesting that more complex noise distributions are essential to the success of NCE.
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