Foundation Posteriors for Approximate Probabilistic Inference

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Mike Wu, Noah Goodman


Probabilistic programs provide an expressive representation language for generative models. Given a probabilistic program, we are interested in the task of posterior inference: estimating a latent variable given a set of observed variables. Existing techniques for inference in probabilistic programs often require choosing many hyper-parameters, are computationally expensive, and/or only work for restricted classes of programs. Here we formulate inference as masked language modeling: given a program, we generate a supervised dataset of variables and assignments, and randomly mask a subset of the assignments. We then train a neural network to unmask the random values, defining an approximate posterior distribution. By optimizing a single neural network across a range of programs we amortize the cost of training, yielding a "foundation" posterior able to do zero-shot inference for new programs. The foundation posterior can also be fine-tuned for a particular program and dataset by optimizing a variational inference objective. We show the efficacy of the approach, zero-shot and fine-tuned, on a benchmark of STAN programs.