Adaptive Monte Carlo Augmented with Normalizing Flows


Many problems in the physical sciences, machine learning, and statistical inference necessitate sampling from a high-dimensional, multi-modal probability distribution. Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) algorithms, the ubiquitous tool for this task, typically rely on random, reversible, and local updates to propagate configurations of a given system in a way that ensures that generated configurations will be distributed according to a target probability distribution asymptotically. In high-dimensional settings with multiple relevant metastable basins, local approaches require either immense computational effort or intricately designed importance sampling strategies to capture information about, for example, the relative populations of such basins. Here we analyze a framework for augmenting MCMC sampling with nonlocal transition kernels parameterized with generative models known as normalizing flows. We focus on a setting where there is no preexisting data, as is commonly the case for problems in which MCMC is used. Our results emphasize that the implementation of the normalizing flow must be adapted to the structure of the target distribution in order to preserve the statistics of the target at all scales. Furthermore, we analyze the propensity of our algorithm to discover new states and demonstrate the importance of initializing the training with some mph{a priori} knowledge of the relevant modes. We show that our algorithm can sample effectively across large free energy barriers, providing dramatic accelerations relative to traditional MCMC algorithms.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.