Master's Thesis: Cutting Plane Algorithms for Variational Inference in Graphical Models


In this thesis, we give a new class of outer bounds on the marginal polytope, and propose a cutting-plane algorithm for efficiently optimizing over these constraints. When combined with a concave upper bound on the entropy, this gives a new variational inference algorithm for probabilistic inference in discrete Markov Random Fields (MRFs). Valid constraints are derived for the marginal polytope through a series of projections onto the cut polytope. Projecting onto a larger model gives an efficient separation algorithm for a large class of valid inequalities arising from each of the original projections. As a result, we obtain tighter upper bounds on the logpartition function than possible with previous variational inference algorithms. We also show empirically that our approximations of the marginals are significantly more accurate. This algorithm can also be applied to the problem of finding the Maximum a Posteriori assignment in a MRF, which corresponds to a linear program over the marginal polytope. One of the main contributions of the thesis is to bring together two seemingly different fields, polyhedral combinatorics and probabilistic inference, showing how certain results in either field can carry over to the other.

David Sontag
David Sontag
Professor of EECS

My research focuses on advancing machine learning and artificial intelligence, and using these to transform health care.