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Title: Automating inference, learning, and design using probabilistic programming
Author: Rainforth, Thomas William Gamlen
ISNI:       0000 0004 7430 586X
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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Imagine a world where computational simulations can be inverted as easily as running them forwards, where data can be used to refine models automatically, and where the only expertise one needs to carry out powerful statistical analysis is a basic proficiency in scientific coding. Creating such a world is the ambitious long-term aim of probabilistic programming. The bottleneck for improving the probabilistic models, or simulators, used throughout the quantitative sciences, is often not an ability to devise better models conceptually, but a lack of expertise, time, or resources to realize such innovations. Probabilistic programming systems (PPSs) help alleviate this bottleneck by providing an expressive and accessible modeling framework, then automating the required computation to draw inferences from the model, for example finding the model parameters likely to give rise to a certain output. By decoupling model specification and inference, PPSs streamline the process of developing and drawing inferences from new models, while opening up powerful statistical methods to non-experts. Many systems further provide the flexibility to write new and exciting models which would be hard, or even impossible, to convey using conventional statistical frameworks. The central goal of this thesis is to improve and extend PPSs. In particular, we will make advancements to the underlying inference engines and increase the range of problems which can be tackled. For example, we will extend PPSs to a mixed inference-optimization framework, thereby providing automation of tasks such as model learning and engineering design. Meanwhile, we make inroads into constructing systems for automating adaptive sequential design problems, providing potential applications across the sciences. Furthermore, the contributions of the work reach far beyond probabilistic programming, as achieving our goal will require us to make advancements in a number of related fields such as particle Markov chain Monte Carlo methods, Bayesian optimization, and Monte Carlo fundamentals.
Supervisor: Osborne, Michael A. ; Roberts, Stephen ; Girolami, Mark ; Wood, Frank Sponsor: BP plc
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Monte Carlo methods ; Bayesian modeling ; Probabilistic programming ; Machine learning