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Imagine you had a type that behaved like your standard Float64 but it really represented a probability distribution like Gamma(0.5) or MvNormal(m, S). Then you could call y=f(x) and have y be the probability distribution y=p(f(x)). This package gives you such a type.

This package facilitates working with probability distributions as if they were regular real numbers, by means of Monte-Carlo methods, in a way that allows for propagation of probability distributions through functions. This is useful for, e.g., nonlinear and possibly non-Gaussian uncertainty propagation. A variable or parameter might be associated with uncertainty if it is measured or otherwise estimated from data. We provide two core types to represent probability distributions: Particles and StaticParticles, both <: Real. (The name "Particles" comes from the particle-filtering literature.) These types all form a Monte-Carlo approximation of the distribution of a floating point number, i.e., the distribution is represented by samples/particles. Correlated quantities are handled as well, see multivariate particles below.

Although several interesting use cases for doing calculations with probability distributions have popped up (see Examples), the original goal of the package is similar to that of Measurements.jl, to propagate the uncertainty from input of a function to the output. The difference compared to a Measurement is that Particles represent the distribution using a vector of unweighted particles, and can thus represent arbitrary distributions and handle nonlinear uncertainty propagation well. Functions like f(x) = x², f(x) = sign(x) at x=0 and long-time integration, are examples that are not handled well using linear uncertainty propagation à la Measurements.jl. MonteCarloMeasurements also support arbitrary correlations (and arbitrary dependencies such as conservation laws etc.) between variables.

A number of type Particles behaves just as any other Number while partaking in calculations. Particles also behave like a distribution, so after a calculation, an approximation to the complete distribution of the output is captured and represented by the output particles. mean, std etc. can be extracted from the particles using the corresponding functions pmean and pstd. Particles also interact with Distributions.jl, so that you can call, e.g., Normal(p) and get back a Normal type from distributions or fit(Gamma, p) to get a Gammadistribution. Particles can also be asked for maximum/minimum, quantile etc. using functions with a prefix p, i.e., pmaximum. If particles are plotted with plot(p), a histogram is displayed. This requires Plots.jl. A kernel-density estimate can be obtained by density(p) if StatsPlots.jl is loaded. A Measurements.Measurements can be converted to particles by calling the Particles constructor.

Below, we show an example where an input uncertainty is propagated through σ(x)

transformed densities

In the figure above, we see the probability-density function of the input p(x) depicted on the x-axis. The density of the output p(y) = f(x) is shown on the y-axis. Linear uncertainty propagation does this by linearizing f(x) and using the equations for an affine transformation of a Gaussian distribution, and hence produces a Gaussian approximation to the output density. The particles form a sampled approximation of the input density p(x). After propagating them through f(x), they form a sampled approximation to p(y) which corresponds very well to the true output density, even though only 20 particles were used in this example. The figure can be reproduced by examples/transformed_densities.jl.

For a comparison of uncertainty propagation and nonlinear filtering, see notes below.

Basic Examples

using MonteCarloMeasurements, Distributions

julia> 1 ± 0.1
 1.0 ± 0.1

julia> p = StaticParticles(100)
 0 ± 0.999

julia> 1 ⊞ Binomial(3) # Shorthand for 1 + Particles(Binomial(1)) (\boxplus)
Particles{Int64, 2000}
 2.504 ± 0.864

julia> 3 ⊠ Gamma(1) # Shorthand for 3 * Particles(Gamma(1)) (\boxtimes)
Particles{Float64, 2000}
 2.99948 ± 3.0

julia> 2 + 0.5StaticParticles(Float32, 25) # Constructor signatures are similar to randn
 2.0 ± 0.498

julia> pstd(p)

julia> pvar(p)

julia> pmean(p)

julia> f = x -> 2x + 10
#27 (generic function with 1 method)

julia> f(p) ≈ 10 # ≈ determines if f(p) is within 2σ of 10

julia> f(p) ≲ 15 # ≲ (\lesssim) tests if f(p) is significantly less than 15

julia> Normal(f(p)) # Fits a normal distribution
Normal{Float64}(μ=10.000000000000002, σ=1.9972806084227737)

julia> fit(Normal, f(p)) # Same as above
Normal{Float64}(μ=10.000000000000002, σ=1.9872691137573264)

julia> Particles(100, Uniform(0,2)) # A distribution can be supplied
 1.0 ± 0.58

julia> Particles(1000, MvNormal([0,0],[2. 1; 1 4])) # A multivariate distribution will cause a vector of correlated particles
2-element Array{Particles{Float64,1000},1}:
 -0.0546 ± 1.4
 -0.128 ± 2.0

Why a package

Convenience. Also, the benefit of using this number type instead of manually calling a function f with perturbed inputs is that, at least in theory, each intermediate operation on Particles can exploit SIMD, since it's performed over a vector. If the function f is called several times, however, the compiler might not be smart enough to SIMD the entire thing. Further, any dynamic dispatch is only paid for once, whereas it would be paid for N times if doing things manually. The same goes for calculations that are done on regular input arguments without uncertainty, these will only be done once for Particles whereas they will be done N times if you repeatedly call f. One could perhaps also make an argument for cache locality being favorable for the Particles type, but I'm not sure this holds for all examples. Below, we show a small benchmark example (additional Benchmark) where we calculate a QR factorization of a matrix using Particles and compare it to manually doing it many times

using MonteCarloMeasurements, BenchmarkTools
A = [randn() + Particles(1000) for i = 1:3, j = 1:3]
B = pmean.(A)
@btime qr($A);
  # 119.243 μs (257 allocations: 456.58 KiB)
@btime foreach(_->qr($B), 1:1000); # Manually do qr 1000 times
  # 3.916 ms (4000 allocations: 500.00 KiB)

that's about a 30-fold reduction in time, and the repeated qr didn't even bother to sample new input points or store and handle the statistics of the result. The type StaticParticles contains a statically sized, stack-allocated vector from StaticArrays.jl. This type is suitable if the number of particles is small, say < 500 ish (but expect long compilation times if > 100, especially on julia < v1.1).

A = [randn() + StaticParticles(100) for i = 1:3, j = 1:3]
B = pmean.(A)
@btime qr($(A));
  # 8.392 μs (16 allocations: 18.94 KiB)
@btime map(_->qr($B), 1:100);
  # 690.590 μs (403 allocations: 50.92 KiB)
# Over 80 times faster
# Bigger matrix
A = [randn() + StaticParticles(100) for i = 1:30, j = 1:30]
B = pmean.(A)
@btime qr($(A));
  # 1.823 ms (99 allocations: 802.63 KiB)
@btime map(_->qr($B), 1:100);
  # 75.068 ms (403 allocations: 2.11 MiB)
# 40 times faster

StaticParticles allocate much less memory than regular Particles, but are more stressful for the compiler to handle.


The most basic constructor of Particles acts more or less like randn(N), i.e., it creates a particle cloud with distribution Normal(0,1). To create a particle cloud with distribution Normal(μ,σ), you can call μ + σ*Particles(N), or Particles(N, Normal(μ,σ)). This last constructor works with any distribution from which one can sample. One can also call (Particles/StaticParticles)

  • Particles(v::Vector) pre-sampled particles
  • Particles(N = 2000, d::Distribution = Normal(0,1)) samples N particles from the distribution d.
  • The ± operator (\pm) (similar to Measurements.jl). We have μ ± σ = μ + σ*Particles(DEFAULT_NUM_PARTICLES), where the global constant DEFAULT_NUM_PARTICLES = 2000. You can change this if you would like, or simply define your own ± operator like ±(μ,σ) = μ + σ*Particles(my_default_number, my_default_distribution). The upside-down operator (\mp) instead creates a StaticParticles(100).
  • The .. binary infix operator creates uniformly sampled particles, e.g., 2..3 = Particles(Uniform(2,3))

Common univariate distributions are sampled systematically, meaning that a single random number is drawn and used to seed the sample. This will reduce the variance of the sample. If this is not desired, call Particles(N, [d]; systematic=false) The systematic sample can maintain its originally sorted order by calling Particles(N, permute=false), but the default is to permute the sample so as to not have different Particles correlate strongly with each other.

Construction of Particles as sigma points or by latin hypercube sampling is detailed below.

Multivariate particles

The constructors can be called with multivariate distributions, returning v::Vector{Particle} where particles are sampled from the desired multivariate distribution. Once v is propagated through a function v2 = f(v), the results can be analyzed by, e.g., asking for pmean(v2) and pcov(v2), or by fitting a multivariate distribution, e.g., MvNormal(v2).

A v::Vector{Particle} can be converted into a Matrix by calling Matrix(v) and this will have a size of N × dim. ~~You can also index into v like it was already a matrix.~~(This was a bad idea)

Broadcasting the ±/∓ operators works as you would expect, zeros(3) .± 1 gives you a three-vector of independent particles, so does zeros(3) .+ Particles.(N).

Independent multivariate systematic samples can be created using the function outer_product or the non-exported operator ⊗ (\otimes).


The following example creates a vector of two Particles. Since they were created independently of each other, they are independent and uncorrelated and have the covariance matrix Σ = Diagonal([1², 2²]). The linear transform with the matrix A should in theory change this covariance matrix to AΣAᵀ, which we can verify be asking for the covariance matrix of the output particles.

julia> p = [1 ± 1, 5 ± 2]
2-element Array{Particles{Float64,2000},1}:
 1.0 ± 1.0
 5.0 ± 2.0

julia> A = randn(2,2)
2×2 Array{Float64,2}:
 -1.80898  -1.24566
  1.41308   0.196504

julia> y = A*p
2-element Array{Particles{Float64,2000},1}:
 -8.04 ± 3.1
  2.4 ± 1.5

julia> pcov(y)
2×2 Array{Float64,2}:
  9.61166  -3.59812
 -3.59812   2.16701

julia> A*Diagonal([1^2, 2^2])*A'
2×2 Array{Float64,2}:
  9.4791   -3.53535
 -3.53535   2.15126

To create particles that exhibit a known covariance/correlation, use the appropriate constructor, e.g.,

julia> p = Particles(2000, MvLogNormal(MvNormal([2, 1],[2. 1;1 3])))
2-element Array{Particles{Float64,2000},1}:
 19.3 ± 48.0
 11.9 ± 43.0

julia> pcov(log.(p))
2×2 Array{Float64,2}:
 1.96672  1.0016
 1.0016   2.98605

julia> pmean(log.(p))
2-element Array{Float64,1}:

Sigma points

The unscented transform uses a small number of points called sigma points to propagate the first and second moments of a probability density. We provide a function sigmapoints(μ, Σ) that creates a Matrix of 2n+1 sigma points, where n is the dimension. This can be used to initialize any kind of AbstractParticles, e.g.:

julia> m = [1,2]

julia> Σ = [3. 1; 1 4]

julia> p = StaticParticles(sigmapoints(m,Σ))
2-element Array{StaticParticles{Float64,5},1}:
 1.0 ± 1.7 # 2n+1 = 5 particles
 2.0 ± 2.0

julia> pcov(p) ≈ Σ

julia> pmean(p) ≈ m

sigmapoints also accepts a Normal/MvNormal object as input.


If you are creating several one-dimensional uncertain values using sigmapoints independently, they will be strongly correlated. Use the multidimensional constructor! Example:

p = StaticParticles(sigmapoints(1, 0.1^2))               # Wrong!
ζ = StaticParticles(sigmapoints(0.3, 0.1^2))             # Wrong!
ω = StaticParticles(sigmapoints(1, 0.1^2))               # Wrong!

p,ζ,ω = StaticParticles(sigmapoints([1, 0.3, 1], 0.1^2)) # Correct

Latin hypercube sampling

We do not provide functionality for latin hypercube sampling, rather, we show how to use the package LatinHypercubeSampling.jl to initialize particles.

# import Pkg; Pkg.add("LatinHypercubeSampling")
using MonteCarloMeasurements, LatinHypercubeSampling
ndims  = 2
N      = 100  # Number of particles
ngen   = 2000 # How long to run optimization
X, fit = LHCoptim(N,ndims,ngen)
m, Σ   = [1,2], [2 1; 1 4] # Desired mean and covariance
particle_matrix = transform_moments(X,m,Σ)
p      = Particles(particle_matrix) # These are our LHS particles with correct moments
plot(scatter(eachcol(particles)..., title="Sample"), plot(fit, title="Fitness vs. iteration"))

julia> pmean(p)
2-element Array{Float64,1}:

julia> pcov(p)
2×2 Array{Float64,2}:
 2.0  1.0
 1.0  4.0

Latin hypercube sampling creates an approximately uniform sample in ndims dimensions. The applied transformation gives the particles the desired mean and covariance. Caveat: Unfortunately, endowing the sampled latin hypercube with a desired non-diagonal covariance matrix destroys the latin properties for all dimensions but the first. This is less of a problem for diagonal covariance matrices provided that the latin optimizer was run sufficiently long.

The statistics of the sample can be visualized:

using StatsPlots
plot(density(p[1]), density(p[2]))

see also examples/lhs.jl.


An instance of p::Particles can be plotted using plot(p), that creates a histogram by default. If StatsPlots.jl is available, one can call density(p) to get a slightly different visualization. Vectors of particles can be plotted using one of

  • errorbarplot(x,y,[q=0.025]): q determines the quantiles, set to 0 for max/min. You can also specify both bounds, e.g., q = (0.01, 0.99).
  • mcplot(x,y): Plots all trajectories
  • ribbonplot(x,y,[q=0.025]; N=true): Plots with shaded area from quantile q to 1-q. You can also specify both bounds, e.g., q = (0.01, 0.99).
  • Plot recipes from StatsPlots.jl that do not work with Particles or vectors of Particles can often be made to work by converting the particles to an array, e.g., violin(Array([1±0.5, 4±1, 2±0.1])).

All plots that produce an output with a ribbon also accept a keyword argument N that indicates a number of sample trajectories to be shown on top of the ribbon. The default N=true plots a maximum of 50 trajectories.

Below is an example using ControlSystems.jl

using ControlSystems, MonteCarloMeasurements, StatsPlots

p = 1 ± 0.1
ζ = 0.3 ± 0.1
ω = 1 ± 0.1
G = tf([p*ω], [1, 2ζ*ω, ω^2]) # Transfer function with uncertain parameters

dc = dcgain(G)[]
# Part500(1.01 ± 0.147)
density(dc, title="Probability density of DC-gain")

A density

w = exp10.(LinRange(-1,1,200)) # Frequency vector
mag, phase = bode(G,w) .|> vec

errorbarplot(w,mag, yscale=:log10, xscale=:log10)

A bodeplot with errorbars

mcplot(w,mag, yscale=:log10, xscale=:log10, alpha=0.2)

A bodeplot with lots of lines

ribbonplot(w,mag, yscale=:log10, xscale=:log10, alpha=0.2)

A bodeplot with a ribbon


One major limitation is functions that contain control flow, where the branch is decided by an uncertain value. Consider the following case

function negsquare(x)
    x > 0 ? x^2 : -x^2
p = 0 ± 1

Ideally, half of the particles should turn out negative and half positive when applying negsquare(p). However, this will not happen as the x > 0 is not defined for uncertain values. To circumvent this, define negsquare as a primitive using register_primitive described in Overloading a new function. Particles will then be propagated one by one through the entire function negsquare. Common such functions from Base, such as max/min etc. are already registered.

Comparison mode

Some functions perform checks like if error < tol. If error isa Particles, this will use a very conservative check by default by checking that all particles ∈ error fulfill the check. There are a few different options available for how to compare two uncertain quantities, chosen by specifying a comparison mode. The modes are chosen by unsafe_comparisons(mode) and the options are

  • :safe: the default described above, throws an error if uncertain values share support.
  • :montecarlo: slightly less conservative than :safe, checks if either all pairwise particles fulfill the comparison, or all pairwise particles fail the comparison. If some pairs pass and some fail, an error is thrown.
  • :reduction: Reduce uncertain values to a single number, e.g. by calling pmean (default) before performing the comparison, never throws an error.

To sum up, if two uncertain values are compared, and they have no mutual support, then all comparison modes are equal. If they share support, :safe will error and :montecarlo will work if the all pairwise particles either pass or fail the comparison. :reduction will always work, but is maximally unsafe in the sense that it might not perform a meaningful check for your application.

Calculating probability

If you would like to calculate the empirical probability that a value represented by Particles fulfils a condition, you may use the macro @prob:

julia> p = Particles()
 0 ± 1.0

julia> @prob p < 1

julia> mean(p.particles .< 1)

When to use what?

This table serves as a primitive guide to selecting an uncertainty propagation strategy. If you are unsure about the properties of your function, also have a look at Comparison between linear uncertainty propagation and Monte-Carlo sampling

Linear functionsUse linear uncertainty propagation, i.e., Measurements.jl
Highly nonlinear/discountinuous functionsUse MonteCarloMeasurements
Correlated quantitiesUse MonteCarloMeasurements
Large uncertainties in inputUse MonteCarloMeasurements
Small uncertainties in input in relation to the curvature of the functionUse Measurements
Interested in low probability events / extremasUse MonteCarloMeasurements / IntervalArithmetic.jl
Limited computational budgetUse Measurements or StaticParticles with sigmapoints. See benchmark below.
Non-Gaussian input distributionUse MonteCarloMeasurements
Calculate tail integrals accuratelyThis requires some form of importance sampling, not yet fully supported

Due to Jensen's inequality, linear uncertainty propagation will always underestimate the mean of nonlinear convex functions and overestimate the mean of concave functions. From wikipedia

In its simplest form the inequality states that the convex transformation of a mean is less than or equal to the mean applied after convex transformation; it is a simple corollary that the opposite is true of concave transformations.

Linear uncertainty propagation does thus not allow you to upperbound/lowerbound the output uncertainty of a convex/concave function, and will be conservative in the reverse case.


The benchmark results below comes from examples/controlsystems.jl The benchmark consists of calculating the Bode curves for a linear system with uncertain parameters

w  = exp10.(LinRange(-1,1,200)) # Frequency vector
p  = 1 ± 0.1
ζ  = 0.3 ± 0.1
ω  = 1 ± 0.1
G  = tf([p*ω], [1, 2ζ*ω, ω^2])
t1 = @belapsed bode($G,$w)
Time with 500 particles1.3632ms
Time with regular floating point0.0821ms
Time with Measurements0.1132ms
Time with 100 static part.0.2375ms
Time with static sigmapoints.0.0991ms
500×floating point time41.0530ms
Speedup factor vs. Manual30.1x
Slowdown factor vs. Measurements12.0x
Slowdown static vs. Measurements2.1x
Slowdown sigma vs. Measurements0.9x

The benchmarks show that using Particles is much faster than doing the Monte-Carlo sampling manually. We also see that we're about 12 times slower than linear uncertainty propagation with Measurements.jl if we are using standard Particles, StaticParticles are within a factor of 2 of Measurements and StaticParticles with sigmapoints are actually 10% faster than Measurements (this is because 7 sigmapoints fit well into two of the processors SIMD registers, making the extra calculations very cheap).

Comparison to nonlinear filtering

The table below compares methods for uncertainty propagation with their parallel in nonlinear filtering.

Uncertainty propagationDynamic filteringMethod
Measurements.jlExtended Kalman filterLinearization
Particles(sigmapoints)Unscented Kalman FilterUnscented transform
ParticlesParticle FilterMonte Carlo (sampling)


See CITATION.bib ArXiv article MonteCarloMeasurements.jl: Nonlinear Propagation of Arbitrary Multivariate Distributions by means of Method Overloading