On the Design of Loss Functions for Classification: theory, robustness to outliers, and SavageBoost

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 21 (NIPS 2008)

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Hamed Masnadi-shirazi, Nuno Vasconcelos


The machine learning problem of classifier design is studied from the perspective of probability elicitation, in statistics. This shows that the standard approach of proceeding from the specification of a loss, to the minimization of conditional risk is overly restrictive. It is shown that a better alternative is to start from the specification of a functional form for the minimum conditional risk, and derive the loss function. This has various consequences of practical interest, such as showing that 1) the widely adopted practice of relying on convex loss functions is unnecessary, and 2) many new losses can be derived for classification problems. These points are illustrated by the derivation of a new loss which is not convex, but does not compromise the computational tractability of classifier design, and is robust to the contamination of data with outliers. A new boosting algorithm, SavageBoost, is derived for the minimization of this loss. Experimental results show that it is indeed less sensitive to outliers than conventional methods, such as Ada, Real, or LogitBoost, and converges in fewer iterations.