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Stochastics and Statistics Seminar Series

Advances in Distribution Compression

December 1, 2023 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

Lester Mackey (Microsoft Research)



This talk will introduce three new tools for summarizing a probability distribution more effectively than independent sampling or standard Markov chain Monte Carlo thinning:
  • Given an initial n point summary (for example, from independent sampling or a Markov chain), kernel thinning finds a subset of only square-root n points with comparable worst-case integration error across a reproducing kernel Hilbert space.
  • If the initial summary suffers from biases due to off-target sampling, tempering, or burn-in, Stein thinning simultaneously compresses the summary and improves the accuracy by correcting for these biases.
  • Finally, Compress++ converts any unbiased quadratic-time thinning algorithm into a near-linear-time algorithm with comparable error.

Based on joint work with Raaz Dwivedi, Marina Riabiz, Wilson Ye Chen, Jon Cockayne, Pawel Swietach, Steven A. Niederer, Chris. J. Oates, Abhishek Shetty, and Carles Domingo-Enrich:


Lester Mackey is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, where he develops machine learning methods, models, and theory for large-scale learning tasks driven by applications from climate forecasting, healthcare, and the social good. Lester moved to Microsoft from Stanford University, where he was an assistant professor of Statistics and, by courtesy, of Computer Science. He earned his PhD in Computer Science and MA in Statistics from UC Berkeley and his BSE in Computer Science from Princeton University. He co-organized the second place team in the Netflix Prize competition for collaborative filtering; won the Prize4Life ALS disease progression prediction challenge; won prizes for temperature and precipitation forecasting in the yearlong real-time Subseasonal Climate Forecast Rodeo; and received best paper, outstanding paper, and best student paper awards from the ACM Conference on Programming Language Design and Implementation, the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, and the International Conference on Machine Learning. He is a 2023 MacArthur Fellow, a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, an elected member of the COPSS Leadership Academy, and the recipient of the 2023 Ethel Newbold Prize.

MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307