This paper introduces a generalized representation of Bayesian inference. It is derived axiomatically, recovering existing Bayesian methods as special cases. We then use it to prove that variational inference (VI) based on the Kullback-Leibler Divergence with a variational family Q produces the uniquely optimal Q-constrained approximation to the exact Bayesian inference problem. Surprisingly, this implies that standard VI dominates any other Q-constrained approximation to the exact Bayesian inference problem. This means that alternative Q-constrained approximations such as VI minimizing other divergences and Expectation Propagation can produce better posteriors than VI only by implicitly targeting more appropriate Bayesian inference problems. Inspired by this, we introduce Generalized Variational Inference (GVI), a modular approach for instead solving such alternative inference problems explicitly. We explore some applications of GVI, including robustness and better marginals. Lastly, we derive black box GVI and apply it to Bayesian Neural Networks and Deep Gaussian Processes, where GVI can comprehensively outperform competing methods.

Citation information


Knoblauch, J., Jewson, J. and Damoulas, T. (2019). Generalized Variational Inference. arXiv:1904.02063.

Turing affiliated authors