Gaussian Processes

skorch integrates with GPyTorch to make it easy to train Gaussian Process (GP) models. You should already know how Gaussian Processes work. Please refer to other resources if you want to learn about them, this section assumes familiarity with the concept.

GPyTorch adopts many patterns from PyTorch, thus making it easy to pick up for seasoned PyTorch users. Similarly, the skorch GPyTorch integration should look familiar to seasoned skorch users. However, GPs are a different beast than the more common, non-probabilistic machine learning techniques. It is important to understand the basic concepts before using them in practice.


In addition to the normal skorch dependencies and PyTorch, you need to install GPyTorch as well. It wasn’t added as a normal dependency since most users probably are not interested in using skorch for GPs. To install GPyTorch, use either pip or conda:

# using pip
python -m pip install -U gpytorch
# using conda
conda install gpytorch -c gpytorch

When to use GPyTorch with skorch

Here we want to quickly explain when it would be a good idea for you to use GPyTorch with skorch. There are a couple of offerings in the Python ecosystem when it comes to Gaussian Processes. We cannot provide an exhaustive list of pros and cons of each possibility. There are, however, two obvious alternatives that are worth discussing: using the sklearn implementation and using GPyTorch without skorch.

When to use skorch + GPyTorch over sklearn:

  • When you are more familiar with PyTorch than with sklearn
  • When the kernels provided by sklearn are not sufficient for your use case and you would like to implement custom kernels with PyTorch
  • When you want to use the rich set of optimizers available in PyTorch
  • When sklearn is too slow and you want to use the GPU or scale across machines
  • When you like to use the skorch extras, e.g. callbacks

When to use skorch + GPyTorch over pure GPyTorch

  • When you’re already familiar with skorch and want an easy entry into GPs
  • When you like to use the skorch extras, e.g. callbacks and grid search
  • When you don’t want to bother with writing your own training loop

However, if you are researching GPs and would like to have control over every detail, using all the rich but very specific featues that GPyTorch has on offer, it is better to use it directly without skorch.


Exact Gaussian Processes

Same as GPyTorch, skorch supports exact and approximate Gaussian Processes regression. For exact GPs, use the ExactGPRegressor. The likelihood has to be a GaussianLikelihood and the criterion ExactMarginalLogLikelihood, but those are the defaults and thus don’t need to be specified. For exact GPs, the module needs to be an ExactGP. For this example, we use a simple RBF kernel.

import gpytorch
from skorch.probabilistic import ExactGPRegressor

class RbfModule(gpytorch.models.ExactGP):
    def __init__(likelihood, self):
        # detail: We don't set train_inputs and train_targets here skorch because
        # will take care of that.
        self.mean_module = gpytorch.means.ConstantMean()
        self.covar_module = gpytorch.kernels.RBFKernel()

    def forward(self, x):
        mean_x = self.mean_module(x)
        covar_x = self.covar_module(x)
        return gpytorch.distributions.MultivariateNormal(mean_x, covar_x)

gpr = ExactGPRegressor(RbfModule), y_train)
y_pred = gpr.predict(X_test)

As you can see, this almost looks like a normal skorch regressor with a normal PyTorch module. We can fit as normal using the fit method and predict using the predict method.

Inside the module, we determine the mean by using a mean function (just constant in this case) and the covariance matrix using the RBF kernel function. You should know about mean and kernel functions already. Having the mean and covariance matrix, we assume that the output distribution is a multivariate normal function, since exact GPs rely on this assumption. We could send the x through an MLP for Deep Kernel Learning but left it out to keep the example simple.

One major difference to usual deep learning models is that we actually predict a distribution, not just a point estimate. That means that if we choose an appropriate model that fits the data well, we can express the uncertainty of the model:

y_pred, y_std = gpr.predict(X, return_std=True)
lower_conf_region = y_pred - y_std
upper_conf_region = y_pred + y_std

Here we not only returned the mean of the prediction, y_pred, but also its standard deviation, y_std. This tells us how uncertain the model is about its prediction. E.g., it could be the case that the model is fairly certain when interpolating between data points but uncertain about extrapolating. This is not possible to know when models only learn point predictions.

The obtain the confidence region, you can also use the confidence_region method:

# 1 standard deviation
lower, upper = gpr.confidence_region(X, sigmas=1)

# 2 standard deviation, the default
lower, upper = gpr.confidence_region(X, sigmas=2)

Furthermore, a GP allows you to sample from the distribution even before fitting it. The GP needs to be initialized, however:

gpr = ExactGPRegressor(...)
samples = gpr.sample(X, n_samples=100)

By visualizing the samples and comparing them to the true underlying distribution of the target, you can already get a feel about whether the model you built is capable of generating the distribution of the target. If fitting takes a long time, it is therefore recommended to check the distribution first, otherwise you may try to fit a model that is incapable of generating the true distribution and waste a lot of time.

Approximate Gaussian Processes

For some situations, fitting an exact GP might be infeasible, e.g. because the distribution is not Gaussian or because you want to perform stochastic optimization with mini-batches. For this, GPyTorch provides facilities to train variational and approximate GPs. The module should inherit from ApproximateGP and should define a variational strategy. From the skorch side of things, use GPRegressor.

import gpytorch
from gpytorch.models import ApproximateGP
from gpytorch.variational import CholeskyVariationalDistribution
from gpytorch.variational import VariationalStrategy
from skorch.probabilistic import GPRegressor

class VariationalModule(ApproximateGP):
    def __init__(self, inducing_points):
        variational_distribution = CholeskyVariationalDistribution(inducing_points.size(0))
        variational_strategy = VariationalStrategy(
            self, inducing_points, variational_distribution, learn_inducing_locations=True,
        self.mean_module = gpytorch.means.ConstantMean()
        self.covar_module = gpytorch.kernels.ScaleKernel(gpytorch.kernels.RBFKernel())

    def forward(self, x):
        mean_x = self.mean_module(x)
        covar_x = self.covar_module(x)
        return gpytorch.distributions.MultivariateNormal(mean_x, covar_x)

X, y = get_data(...)
X_incuding = X[:100]
X_train, y_train = X[100:], y[100:]
num_training_samples = len(X_train)

gpr = GPRegressor(
), y_train)
y_pred = gpr.predict(X_train)

As you can see, the variational strategy requires us to use inducing points. We split off 100 of our training data samples to use as inducing points, assuming that they are representative of the whole distribution. Apart from this, there is basically no difference to using exact GP regression.

Finally, skorch also provides GPBinaryClassifier for binary classification with GPs. It uses a Bernoulli likelihood by default. However, using GPs for classification is not very common, GPs are most commonly used for regression tasks where data points have a known relationship to each other (e.g. in time series forecasts).

Multiclass classification is not currently provided, but you can use GPBinaryClassifier in conjunction with OneVsRestClassifier to achieve the same result.

Further examples

To see all of this in action, we provide a notebook that shows using skorch with GPs on real world data: Gaussian Processes notebook.