Pathwise Conditioning of Gaussian Processes

JMLR 2021

Abstract. As Gaussian processes are integrated into increasingly complex problem settings, analytic solutions to quantities of interest become scarcer and scarcer. Monte Carlo methods act as a convenient bridge for connecting intractable mathematical expressions with actionable estimates via sampling. Conventional approaches for simulating Gaussian process posteriors view samples as vectors drawn from marginal distributions over process values at a finite number of input location. This distribution-based characterization leads to generative strategies that scale cubically in the size of the desired random vector. These methods are, therefore, prohibitively expensive in cases where high-dimensional vectors—let alone continuous functions—are required. In this work, we investigate a different line of reasoning. Rather than focusing on distributions, we articulate Gaussian conditionals at the level of random variables. We show how this pathwise interpretation of conditioning gives rise to a general family of approximations that lend themselves to fast sampling from Gaussian process posteriors. We analyze these methods, along with the approximation errors they introduce, from first principles. We then complement this theory, by exploring the practical ramifications of pathwise conditioning in a various applied settings.