NeurIPS 2023
Conference paper

Leveraging Locality and Robustness to Achieve Massively Scalable Gaussian Process Regression


The accurate predictions and principled uncertainty measures provided by GP regression incur $\bigO{n^3}$ cost which is prohibitive for modern-day large-scale applications. This has motivated extensive work on computationally efficient approximations. We introduce a new perspective by exploring robustness properties and limiting behaviour of GP nearest-neighbour (GPnn) prediction. We demonstrate through theory and simulation that as the data-size $n$ increases, accuracy of estimated parameters and GP model assumptions become increasingly irrelevant to GPnn predictive accuracy. Consequently, it is sufficient to spend small amounts of work on parameter estimation in order to achieve high MSE accuracy, even in the presence of gross misspecification. In contrast, as $n \rightarrow \infty$, uncertainty calibration and NLL are shown to remain sensitive to just one parameter, the additive noise-variance; but we show that this source of inaccuracy can be corrected for, thereby achieving both well-calibrated uncertainty measures and accurate predictions at remarkably low computational cost. We exhibit a very simple GPnn regression algorithm with stand-out performance compared to other state-of-the-art GP approximations as measured on large UCI datasets. It operates at a small fraction of those other methods' training costs, for example on a basic laptop taking about 30 seconds to train on a dataset of size $n = 1.6 \times 10^6$.