GSoC 2019 Final Evaluation

7 minute read


The Google Summer of Code 2019 has come to an end. It has been an amazing experience! I would recommend it to anyone that is interested in participating in an open source project.

In what follows, I will present a summary of the work done for the Google Summer of Code project “Bayesian Additive Regression Trees in PyMC3”. I will go over key points of the project and provide links to commits that show the current state of the implementation. Along the way, I will point out different challenges encountered and future work to be done.

All the code produced during GSoC 2019 is available in this repository of GitHub. Also, I have written a serie of blog posts where I talk about the Bayesian Additive Regression Trees (BART) model and its implementation.

Project Abstract

Bayesian Additive Regression Trees is a Bayesian nonparametric approach to estimating functions using regression trees. A BART model consist on a sum of regression trees with normal additive noise. Regression trees are defined by recursively partitioning the input space, and defining a local model in each resulting region of input space in order to approximate some unknown function. BARTs are useful and flexible model to capture interactions and non-linearities and have been proved useful tools for variable selection.

Bayesian Additive Regression Trees will allow PyMC3 users to perform regressions with a “canned” non-parametric model. By simple calling a method, users will obtain the mean regressor plus the uncertainty estimation in a fully Bayesian way. This can be used later to predict on hold-out data. Furthermore, the implemented BART model will allow experience users to specify their own priors for the specific problem they are tackling, improving performance substantially.

Project status

A lot work was put into the Google Summer of Code. I read some papers about BART and wrote a lot a code, tests and documentation. But, sadly we didn’t meet all the goals we set in the beginning. There are still a lot more debugging to do to ensure the model is correct.

The main files for the project are:

Things done


During GSoC there were two challenges I faced. For one part implementing a model given in a serie of papers was not as simple as I though at first. There are a lot of small details that are not explained in the papers but that appear while implementing the model. This entailed to examine the implementations of the original papers and reading a lot more papers in order to find the answer. Tasks that proved to be hard because I am not an expert in the topic. On the other hand, I faced the challenge of merging the code I wrote for this model inside the PyMC3 code base. For this I had to dive deep into the code base of PyMC3 and adapt the code I had written. I go in a little more detail in this blog post: “The coding period is coming to an end”.

Future work

Although GSoC has finished, I plan to keep working in the project. It is not going to be as intense as during GSoC, but I will dedicate a couple of hours a week to have BART merged in PyMC.

To have an initial version of BART in PyMC we should:

  • Add documentation to the rest of the code.
  • Ensure the model is correct. Compare our model with other implementations.
  • Add jupyter notebook showing the effect of the BART priors.
  • Add jupyter notebook showing how BART performs.
  • Finish merging the BART code to PyMC3.
  • Refactor Tree code. Separate the basic tree structure from the things needed for BART. Add a new class BARTTree which add the attributes BART needs.

To extend the model we should:

  • Implement another way to calculate variable importance following the paper from Bleich et al. (2014).
  • Implement another way to choose the path when the variable has np.NaN following the paper from Kapelner & Bleich (2015). For example:
    • Always to the left.
    • Always to the right.
    • To the left or right at random.
    • Every data point with np.NaN in that particular variate goes to the left and the rest of the data points to the right. The condition the split node will divide the space is np.isNan(x).
  • Single program, multiple data (SPMD) parallelization following the paper from Pratola et al. (2014).
  • Optimize time for posterior estimation following the paper from He et al. (2019).


  1. Chipman, H. A., George, E. I., & McCulloch, R. E. (2010). BART: Bayesian additive regression trees. The Annals of Applied Statistics, 4(1), 266-298.
  2. Chipman, H. A., George, E. I., & McCulloch, R. E. (1998). Bayesian CART model search. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 93(443), 935-948.
  3. Lakshminarayanan, B., Roy, D., & Teh, Y. W. (2015). Particle Gibbs for Bayesian additive regression trees. In Artificial Intelligence and Statistics (pp. 553-561).
  4. Kapelner, A., & Bleich, J. (2013). bartMachine: Machine learning with Bayesian additive regression trees. arXiv preprint arXiv:1312.2171.
  5. Tan, Y. V., & Roy, J. (2019). Bayesian additive regression trees and the General BART model. arXiv preprint arXiv:1901.07504.
  6. Pratola, M. T., Chipman, H. A., Gattiker, J. R., Higdon, D. M., McCulloch, R., & Rust, W. N. (2014). Parallel Bayesian additive regression trees. Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics, 23(3), 830-852.
  7. Bleich, J., Kapelner, A., George, E. I., & Jensen, S. T. (2014). Variable selection for BART: an application to gene regulation. The Annals of Applied Statistics, 8(3), 1750-1781.
  8. Kapelner, A., & Bleich, J. (2015). Prediction with missing data via Bayesian additive regression trees. Canadian Journal of Statistics, 43(2), 224-239.
  9. He, J., Yalov, S., & Hahn, P. R. (2019, April). XBART: Accelerated Bayesian Additive Regression Trees. In The 22nd International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics (pp. 1130-1138).


I will like to thanks Google and NumFOCUS for promoting open-source projects and bringing students closer to open-source communities; PyMC for the warm welcome to the community; and Austin Rochford and Osvaldo Martin for their support as mentors during the development of the project.