Asynchronous Gibbs Sampling

· Talk · AISTATS 2020

Abstract. Gibbs sampling is a Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) method often used in Bayesian learning. MCMC methods can be difficult to deploy on parallel and distributed systems due to their inherently sequential nature. We study asynchronous Gibbs sampling, which achieves parallelism by simply ignoring sequential requirements. This method has been shown to produce good empirical results for some hierarchical models, and is popular in the topic modeling community, but was also shown to diverge for other targets. We introduce a theoretical framework for analyzing asynchronous Gibbs sampling and other extensions of MCMC that do not possess the Markov property. We prove that asynchronous Gibbs can be modified so that it converges under appropriate regularity conditions - we call this the exact asynchronous Gibbs algorithm. We study asynchronous Gibbs on a set of examples by comparing the exact and approximate algorithms, including two where it works well, and one where it fails dramatically. We conclude with a set of heuristics to describe settings where the algorithm can be effectively used.