Probabilistic Integration: A Role in Computational Statistics?


A research frontier has emerged in scientific computation, wherein numerical error is regarded as a source of epistemic uncertainty that can be modelled. This raises several statistical challenges, including the design of statistical methods that enable the coherent propagation of probabilities through a (possibly deterministic) pipeline of computation.

This paper examines the use case for probabilistic numerical methods in routine statistical computation. Our focus is on numerical integration, where a probabilistic integrator is equipped with a full distribution over its output that reflects the presence of an unknown numerical error. Our main technical contribution is to establish, for the first time, rates of posterior contraction for these methods. These show that probabilistic integrators can in principle enjoy the “best of both worlds”, leveraging the sampling efficiency of Monte Carlo methods whilst providing a principled route to assessment of the impact of numerical error on scientific conclusions.

Several substantial applications are provided for illustration and critical evaluation, including examples from statistical modelling, computer graphics and a computer model for an oil reservoir.

Citation information

Briol F-X, Oates, CJ, Girolami, M, Osborne, MA, Sejdinovic, D. Probabilistic Integration: A Role in Statistical Computation? (with discussion and rejoinder) Statistical Science, 2018.

Turing affiliated authors