- Abstract: The importance weighted autoencoder (IWAE) (Burda et al., 2016) is a popular variational-inference method which achieves a tighter evidence bound (and hence a lower bias) than standard variational autoencoders by optimising a multi-sample objective, i.e. an objective that is expressible as an integral over $K > 1$ Monte Carlo samples. Unfortunately, IWAE crucially relies on the availability of reparametrisations and even if these exist, the multi-sample objective leads to inference-network gradients which break down as $K$ is increased (Rainforth et al., 2018). This breakdown can only be circumvented by removing high-variance score-function terms, either by heuristically ignoring them (which yields the 'sticking-the-landing' IWAE (IWAE-STL) gradient from Roeder et al. (2017)) or through an identity from Tucker et al. (2019) (which yields the 'doubly-reparametrised' IWAE (IWAE-DREG) gradient). In this work, we argue that directly optimising the proposal distribution in importance sampling as in the reweighted wake-sleep (RWS) algorithm from Bornschein & Bengio (2015) is preferable to optimising IWAE-type multi-sample objectives. To formalise this argument, we introduce an adaptive-importance sampling framework termed adaptive importance sampling for learning (AISLE) which slightly generalises the RWS algorithm. We then show that AISLE admits IWAE-STL and IWAE-DREG (i.e. the IWAE-gradients which avoid breakdown) as special cases.
- Keywords: variational inference, autoencoders, importance sampling
- TL;DR: We show that most variants of importance-weighted autoencoders can be derived in a more principled manner as special cases of adaptive importance-sampling approaches like the reweighted-wake sleep algorithm.