September 2018, Vol. 30, No. 9, Pages 2530-2567
© 2018 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Active Inference, Belief Propagation, and the Bethe Approximation
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When modeling goal-directed behavior in the presence of various sources of uncertainty, planning can be described as an inference process. A solution to the problem of planning as inference was previously proposed in the active inference framework in the form of an approximate inference scheme based on variational free energy. However, this approximate scheme was based on the mean-field approximation, which assumes statistical independence of hidden variables and is known to show overconfidence and may converge to local minima of the free energy. To better capture the spatiotemporal properties of an environment, we reformulated the approximate inference process using the so-called Bethe approximation. Importantly, the Bethe approximation allows for representation of pairwise statistical dependencies. Under these assumptions, the minimizer of the variational free energy corresponds to the belief propagation algorithm, commonly used in machine learning. To illustrate the differences between the mean-field approximation and the Bethe approximation, we have simulated agent behavior in a simple goal-reaching task with different types of uncertainties. Overall, the Bethe agent achieves higher success rates in reaching goal states. We relate the better performance of the Bethe agent to more accurate predictions about the consequences of its own actions. Consequently, active inference based on the Bethe approximation extends the application range of active inference to more complex behavioral tasks.