It is well known from classical literature in variational inference that Variational Auto-Encoders optimizes the Evidence Lower Bound (ELBo), a lower bound on the log-likelihood of the data. I will point out in this blogpost that it also optimizes a joint likelihood.

### Reminder on Variational Auto-Encoders

Given a data space $\mathcal{X}$ and a continuous latent space $\mathcal{Z} = \mathbb{R}^{d_{z}}$, the standard Variational Auto-Encoder aims at learning a directed generative model defined by a gaussian prior $p(z) = \mathcal{N}(0, I)$ and a generator network $z \in \mathcal{Z} \mapsto p_{\theta}(X = \cdot \mid z)$ defining a distribution on a data point $x$ conditioned on a latent variable $z$.

Since optimizing $\log\big(p_{\theta}(x)\big) = \log\big(\int_{\mathcal{Z}}{p_{\theta}(x \mid z)p(z)dz}\big)$ is in general intractable, their inventors chose to rely on a auxiliary distribution called the approximate posterior $q_{\phi}(z \mid x)$ to optimize the ELBo, a lower bound on the log-likelihood:

Building a reasonable approximate posterior is called doing approximate inference. Instead of doing approximate inference at every gradient iteration, the standard Variational Auto-Encoder defines $q_{\phi}(z \mid x)$ as a gaussian $\mathcal{N}\big(\mu_{\phi}(x), \sigma_{\phi}^{2}(x)\big)$ through the functions $\mu_{\phi}$ and $\sigma_{\phi}^{2}$ used to amortize inference.

Since the expectation is over a parametrized distribution $q(z \mid x)$, its optimization would normally rely on a high-variance gradient as derived in REINFORCE. However the standard Variational Auto-Encoder is able to fully differentiate cost function via the Reparametrization Trick by defining a auxiliary standard random variable $\epsilon \in \mathbb{R}^{d_{z}} \sim q(\epsilon) = \mathcal{N}(0, I)$ and, given a data point $x$, redefining the latent variable as $z = \mu_{\phi}(x) + \sigma_{\phi}(x) \cdot \epsilon$.

### Optimizing a joint

After some discussions following my talk at Twitter, I discovered that one under-appreciated fact about Variational Auto-Encoders is that they also optimize the joint log-likelihood $p_{\theta}(x, \epsilon)$.

Variational Auto-Encoders rely on the Reparametrization Trick, a straightforward application of the Change of Variable formula. According to this formula, if $z = g(\epsilon; x)$ and $g(\cdot ; x)$ is bijective then:

In our case, given a data point $x$, the standard Variational Auto-Encoder algorithm defines a bijective transformation from the auxiliary $\epsilon \mapsto z = \mu_{\phi}(x) + \sigma_{\phi}(x) \cdot \epsilon$ with a Jacobian determinant of $\prod_{i=1}^{d_{z}}{\sigma_{\phi, i}(x)}$. Therefore, $q(z \mid x) = \Big(\prod_{i=1}^{d_{z}}{\sigma_{\phi, i}(x)}\Big)^{-1}q(\epsilon)$, which checks with the fact that $\mathcal{N}\big(z; \mu_{\phi}(x), \sigma_{\phi}^{2}(x)\big) = \Big(\prod_{i=1}^{d_{z}}{\sigma_{\phi, i}(x)}\Big)^{-1}\mathcal{N}\Big(\sigma_{\phi}^{-1}(x)\left(z - \mu_{\phi}(x)\Big); 0, I\right)$. Likewise, $p_{\theta}(z \mid x) = \Big(\prod_{i=1}^{d_{z}}{\sigma_{\phi, i}(x)}\Big)^{-1}p_{\theta, \phi}(\epsilon \mid x)$.

I’ll define $q(x, \epsilon) = q(x)q(\epsilon)$ as the true data and auxiliary variable joint distribution and $p_{\theta, \phi}(x, \epsilon)$ as the model distribution. If we manipulate the log-likelihood of $(x, \epsilon) \sim q(x)q(\epsilon)$ according to the model $p_{\theta, \phi}(x, \epsilon)$, we obtain:

Therefore:

As $H\big(q(\epsilon)\big)$ is constant, optimizing the Evidence Lower Bound is equivalent in this case with optimizing the expected joint log-likelihood $\mathbb{E}_{\epsilon \sim q(\epsilon)}\Big[\log\big(p_{\theta, \phi}(x, \epsilon)\big)\Big]$.

This observation serves as an interesting a posteriori justification for the coupling layer architecture in NICE and Real NVP but also highlights the presence of “triangular” pattern (e.g. in the Jacobian of the mapping $(x, \epsilon) \mapsto (x, z)$) in several tractable probablistic generative learning algorithms. Triangular pattern confirmed

### Acknowledgements

The motivation for this rewriting comes from discussions with Hugo Larochelle. This connection was also discussed with my PhD supervisor, Yoshua Bengio.