Stochastic PDE representation of random fields for large-scale Gaussian process regression and statistical finite element analysis

Kim Jie Koh, Fehmi Cirak

The efficient representation of random fields on geometrically complex domains is crucial for Bayesian modelling in engineering and machine learning. Today's prevalent random field representations are restricted to unbounded domains or are too restrictive in terms of possible field properties. As a result, new techniques leveraging the historically established link between stochastic PDEs (SPDEs) and random fields are especially appealing for engineering applications with complex geometries which already have a finite element discretisation for solving the physical conservation equations. Unlike the dense covariance matrix of a random field, its inverse, the precision matrix, is usually sparse and equal to the stiffness matrix of a Helmholtz-like SPDE. In this paper, we use the SPDE representation to develop a scalable framework for large-scale statistical finite element analysis (statFEM) and Gaussian process (GP) regression on geometrically complex domains. We use the SPDE formulation to obtain the relevant prior probability densities with a sparse precision matrix. The properties of the priors are governed by the parameters and possibly fractional order of the Helmholtz-like SPDE so that we can model on bounded domains and manifolds anisotropic, non-homogeneous random fields with arbitrary smoothness. We use for assembling the sparse precision matrix the same finite element mesh used for solving the physical conservation equations. The observation models for statFEM and GP regression are such that the posterior probability densities are Gaussians with a closed-form mean and precision. The expressions for the mean vector and the precision matrix can be evaluated using only sparse matrix operations. We demonstrate the versatility of the proposed framework and its convergence properties with one and two-dimensional Poisson and thin-shell examples.

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