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Abstract:This paper introduces a boosted conformal procedure designed to tailor conformalized prediction intervals toward specific desired properties, such as enhanced conditional coverage or reduced interval length. We employ machine learning techniques, notably gradient boosting, to systematically improve upon a predefined conformity score function. This process is guided by carefully constructed loss functions that measure the deviation of prediction intervals from the targeted properties. The procedure operates post-training, relying solely on model predictions and without modifying the trained model (e.g., the deep network). Systematic experiments demonstrate that starting from conventional conformal methods, our boosted procedure achieves substantial improvements in reducing interval length and decreasing deviation from target conditional coverage.

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Abstract:Algorithmic stability is a central notion in learning theory that quantifies the sensitivity of an algorithm to small changes in the training data. If a learning algorithm satisfies certain stability properties, this leads to many important downstream implications, such as generalization, robustness, and reliable predictive inference. Verifying that stability holds for a particular algorithm is therefore an important and practical question. However, recent results establish that testing the stability of a black-box algorithm is impossible, given limited data from an unknown distribution, in settings where the data lies in an uncountably infinite space (such as real-valued data). In this work, we extend this question to examine a far broader range of settings, where the data may lie in any space -- for example, categorical data. We develop a unified framework for quantifying the hardness of testing algorithmic stability, which establishes that across all settings, if the available data is limited then exhaustive search is essentially the only universally valid mechanism for certifying algorithmic stability. Since in practice, any test of stability would naturally be subject to computational constraints, exhaustive search is impossible and so this implies fundamental limits on our ability to test the stability property for a black-box algorithm.

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Abstract:We propose a new framework for algorithmic stability in the context of multiclass classification. In practice, classification algorithms often operate by first assigning a continuous score (for instance, an estimated probability) to each possible label, then taking the maximizer -- i.e., selecting the class that has the highest score. A drawback of this type of approach is that it is inherently unstable, meaning that it is very sensitive to slight perturbations of the training data, since taking the maximizer is discontinuous. Motivated by this challenge, we propose a pipeline for constructing stable classifiers from data, using bagging (i.e., resampling and averaging) to produce stable continuous scores, and then using a stable relaxation of argmax, which we call the "inflated argmax," to convert these scores to a set of candidate labels. The resulting stability guarantee places no distributional assumptions on the data, does not depend on the number of classes or dimensionality of the covariates, and holds for any base classifier. Using a common benchmark data set, we demonstrate that the inflated argmax provides necessary protection against unstable classifiers, without loss of accuracy.

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Abstract:Algorithm evaluation and comparison are fundamental questions in machine learning and statistics -- how well does an algorithm perform at a given modeling task, and which algorithm performs best? Many methods have been developed to assess algorithm performance, often based around cross-validation type strategies, retraining the algorithm of interest on different subsets of the data and assessing its performance on the held-out data points. Despite the broad use of such procedures, the theoretical properties of these methods are not yet fully understood. In this work, we explore some fundamental limits for answering these questions with limited amounts of data. In particular, we make a distinction between two questions: how good is an algorithm $A$ at the problem of learning from a training set of size $n$, versus, how good is a particular fitted model produced by running $A$ on a particular training data set of size $n$? Our main results prove that, for any test that treats the algorithm $A$ as a ``black box'' (i.e., we can only study the behavior of $A$ empirically), there is a fundamental limit on our ability to carry out inference on the performance of $A$, unless the number of available data points $N$ is many times larger than the sample size $n$ of interest. (On the other hand, evaluating the performance of a particular fitted model is easy as long as a holdout data set is available -- that is, as long as $N-n$ is not too small.) We also ask whether an assumption of algorithmic stability might be sufficient to circumvent this hardness result. Surprisingly, we find that this is not the case: the same hardness result still holds for the problem of evaluating the performance of $A$, aside from a high-stability regime where fitted models are essentially nonrandom. Finally, we also establish similar hardness results for the problem of comparing multiple algorithms.

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Abstract:We introduce a method for online conformal prediction with decaying step sizes. Like previous methods, ours possesses a retrospective guarantee of coverage for arbitrary sequences. However, unlike previous methods, we can simultaneously estimate a population quantile when it exists. Our theory and experiments indicate substantially improved practical properties: in particular, when the distribution is stable, the coverage is close to the desired level for every time point, not just on average over the observed sequence.

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Abstract:Conformalized Quantile Regression (CQR) is a recently proposed method for constructing prediction intervals for a response $Y$ given covariates $X$, without making distributional assumptions. However, as we demonstrate empirically, existing constructions of CQR can be ineffective for problems where the quantile regressors perform better in certain parts of the feature space than others. The reason is that the prediction intervals of CQR do not distinguish between two forms of uncertainty: first, the variability of the conditional distribution of $Y$ given $X$ (i.e., aleatoric uncertainty), and second, our uncertainty in estimating this conditional distribution (i.e., epistemic uncertainty). This can lead to uneven coverage, with intervals that are overly wide (or overly narrow) in regions where epistemic uncertainty is low (or high). To address this, we propose a new variant of the CQR methodology, Uncertainty-Aware CQR (UACQR), that explicitly separates these two sources of uncertainty to adjust quantile regressors differentially across the feature space. Compared to CQR, our methods enjoy the same distribution-free theoretical guarantees for coverage properties, while demonstrating in our experiments stronger conditional coverage in simulated settings and tighter intervals on a range of real-world data sets.

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Abstract:Cross-validation (CV) is one of the most popular tools for assessing and selecting predictive models. However, standard CV suffers from high computational cost when the number of folds is large. Recently, under the empirical risk minimization (ERM) framework, a line of works proposed efficient methods to approximate CV based on the solution of the ERM problem trained on the full dataset. However, in large-scale problems, it can be hard to obtain the exact solution of the ERM problem, either due to limited computational resources or due to early stopping as a way of preventing overfitting. In this paper, we propose a new paradigm to efficiently approximate CV when the ERM problem is solved via an iterative first-order algorithm, without running until convergence. Our new method extends existing guarantees for CV approximation to hold along the whole trajectory of the algorithm, including at convergence, thus generalizing existing CV approximation methods. Finally, we illustrate the accuracy and computational efficiency of our method through a range of empirical studies.

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Abstract:Bagging is an important technique for stabilizing machine learning models. In this paper, we derive a finite-sample guarantee on the stability of bagging for any model with bounded outputs. Our result places no assumptions on the distribution of the data, on the properties of the base algorithm, or on the dimensionality of the covariates. Our guarantee applies to many variants of bagging and is optimal up to a constant.

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Abstract:Algorithmic stability is a concept from learning theory that expresses the degree to which changes to the input data (e.g., removal of a single data point) may affect the outputs of a regression algorithm. Knowing an algorithm's stability properties is often useful for many downstream applications -- for example, stability is known to lead to desirable generalization properties and predictive inference guarantees. However, many modern algorithms currently used in practice are too complex for a theoretical analysis of their stability properties, and thus we can only attempt to establish these properties through an empirical exploration of the algorithm's behavior on various data sets. In this work, we lay out a formal statistical framework for this kind of "black box testing" without any assumptions on the algorithm or the data distribution, and establish fundamental bounds on the ability of any black box test to identify algorithmic stability.

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Abstract:In a binary classification problem where the goal is to fit an accurate predictor, the presence of corrupted labels in the training data set may create an additional challenge. However, in settings where likelihood maximization is poorly behaved-for example, if positive and negative labels are perfectly separable-then a small fraction of corrupted labels can improve performance by ensuring robustness. In this work, we establish that in such settings, corruption acts as a form of regularization, and we compute precise upper bounds on estimation error in the presence of corruptions. Our results suggest that the presence of corrupted data points is beneficial only up to a small fraction of the total sample, scaling with the square root of the sample size.

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