The Alias Method: Efficient Sampling with Many Discrete Outcomes

Ryan AdamsComputation, Statistics1 Comment

When implementing algorithms for inference and learning with probabilistic models, it commonly comes up that one needs to sample from a discrete distribution. That is, from a multinomial distribution with parameter , such that and . A somewhat more common occurrence is that we have a where , but we don’t know the normalization constant. That is, our is only proportional to the multinomial parameter . We want to rapidly generate a variate according to , given , something easily done with (Matlab) code such as this (paraphrased from Tom Minka‘s Lightspeed Toolbox): cdf = cumsum(phi); samp_k = sum(cdf < rand()*cdf(end)) + 1; This is nice and simple, but you'll notice that it has time complexity for setup (computing the ... Read More