API and Documentation

Developing Custom Random Variables

Oftentimes we’d like to implement our own random variables. To do so, write a class that inherits the RandomVariable class in edward.models and the Distribution class in tf.contrib.distributions (in that order). A template is provided below.

from edward.models import RandomVariable
from tensorflow.contrib.distributions import Distribution

class CustomRandomVariable(RandomVariable, Distribution):
  def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
    super(CustomRandomVariable, self).__init__(*args, **kwargs)

  def _log_prob(self, value):
    raise NotImplementedError("log_prob is not implemented")

  def _sample_n(self, n, seed=None):
    raise NotImplementedError("sample_n is not implemented")

One method that all Edward random variables call during instantiation is _sample_n(). It takes an integer n as input and outputs a tensor of shape (n,) + batch_shape + event_shape, where batch_shape is the number of independent distributions in the instantiated object and event_shape is the shape of an individual distribution.

For examples of custom random variables developed in Edward, see empirical.py and point_mass.py in the Github repository. For more details and more methods one can implement, see the API documentation in TensorFlow’s Distribution class.

Advanced settings

Sometimes the random variable you’d like to work with already exists in Edward, but it is missing a particular feature. One hack is to implement and overwrite the missing method. For example, to implement your own sampling for Poisson:

from edward.models import Poisson
from scipy.stats import poisson

def _sample_n(self, n=1, seed=None):
  # define Python function which returns samples as a Numpy array
  def np_sample(lam, n):
    return poisson.rvs(mu=lam, size=n, random_state=seed).astype(np.float32)

  # wrap python function as tensorflow op
  val = tf.py_func(np_sample, [self.lam, n], [tf.float32])[0]
  # set shape from unknown shape
  batch_event_shape = self.get_batch_shape().concatenate(self.get_event_shape())
  shape = tf.concat([tf.expand_dims(n, 0),
                     tf.constant(batch_event_shape.as_list(), dtype=tf.int32)],
  val = tf.reshape(val, shape)
  return val

Poisson._sample_n = _sample_n

sess = ed.get_session()
x = Poisson(lam=1.0)
## 1.0
## 4.0

(Note the function np_sample should broadcast correctly if you’d like to work with non-scalar parameters; it is not correct in this toy implementation.)

Sometimes the random variable you’d like to work with does not even admit (easy) sampling, and you’re only using it as a likelihood “node” rather than as some prior to parameters of another random variable. You can avoid having to implement _sample_n altogether: after creating CustomRandomVariable, instantiate it with the value argument:

x = CustomRandomVariable(custom_params=params, value=tf.zeros_like(params))

This fixes the associated value of the random variable to a bunch of zeros and avoids the _sample_n error that appears otherwise. Make sure that the value matches the desired shape of the random variable.