Probabilistic numerics and uncertainty in computations





We deliver a call to arms for probabilistic numerical methods: algorithms for numerical tasks, including linear algebra, integration, optimization and solving differential equations, that return uncertainties in their calculations. Such uncertainties, arising from the loss of precision induced by numerical calculation with limited time or hardware, are important for much contemporary science and industry. Within applications such as climate science and astrophysics, the need to make decisions on the basis of computations with large and complex data have led to a renewed focus on the management of numerical uncertainty. We describe how several seminal classic numerical methods can be interpreted naturally as probabilistic inference. We then show that the probabilistic view suggests new algorithms that can flexibly be adapted to suit application specifics, while delivering improved empirical performance. We provide concrete illustrations of the benefits of probabilistic numeric algorithms on real scientific problems from astrometry and astronomical imaging, while highlighting open problems with these new algorithms. Finally, we describe how probabilistic numerical methods provide a coherent framework for identifying the uncertainty in calculations performed with a combination of numerical algorithms (e.g. both numerical optimizers and differential equation solvers), potentially allowing the diagnosis (and control) of error sources in computations.

Author(s): Hennig, P. and Osborne, M. A. and Girolami, M.
Journal: Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Volume: 471
Number (issue): 2179
Year: 2015

Department(s): Empirical Inference, Probabilistic Numerics
Research Project(s): Probabilistic Numerics
Bibtex Type: Article (article)
Paper Type: Journal

DOI: 10.1098/rspa.2015.0142
State: Published
Attachments: PDF


  title = {Probabilistic numerics and uncertainty in computations},
  author = {Hennig, P. and Osborne, M. A. and Girolami, M.},
  journal = {Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences},
  volume = {471},
  number = {2179},
  year = {2015}