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Sub-optimality of the Naive Mean Field approximation for proportional high-dimensional Linear Regression

Jiaze Qiu

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #2022


The Naïve Mean Field (NMF) approximation is widely employed in modern Machine Learning due to the huge computational gains it bestows on the statistician. Despite its popularity in practice, theoretical guarantees for high-dimensional problems are only available under strong structural assumptions (e.g. sparsity). Moreover, existing theory often does not explain empirical observations noted in the existing literature. In this paper, we take a step towards addressing these problems by deriving sharp asymptotic characterizations for the NMF approximation in high-dimensional linear regression. Our results apply to a wide class of natural priors and allow for model mismatch (i.e. the underlying statistical model can be different from the fitted model). We work under an iid Gaussian design and the proportional asymptotic regime, where the number of features and number of observations grow at a proportional rate. As a consequence of our asymptotic characterization, we establish two concrete corollaries: (a) we establish the inaccuracy of the NMF approximation for the log-normalizing constant in this regime, and (b) we provide theoretical results backing the empirical observation that the NMF approximation can be overconfident in terms of uncertainty quantification.Our results utilize recent advances in the theory of Gaussian comparison inequalities. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first application of these ideas to the analysis of Bayesian variational inference problems. Our theoretical results are corroborated by numerical experiments. Lastly, we believe our results can be generalized to non-Gaussian designs and provide empirical evidence to support it.

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