Mixture Proportion Estimation and PU Learning:A Modern Approach

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Saurabh Garg, Yifan Wu, Alexander J. Smola, Sivaraman Balakrishnan, Zachary Lipton


Given only positive examples and unlabeled examples (from both positive and negative classes), we might hope nevertheless to estimate an accurate positive-versus-negative classifier. Formally, this task is broken down into two subtasks: (i) Mixture Proportion Estimation (MPE)---determining the fraction of positive examples in the unlabeled data; and (ii) PU-learning---given such an estimate, learning the desired positive-versus-negative classifier. Unfortunately, classical methods for both problems break down in high-dimensional settings. Meanwhile, recently proposed heuristics lack theoretical coherence and depend precariously on hyperparameter tuning. In this paper, we propose two simple techniques: Best Bin Estimation (BBE) (for MPE); and Conditional Value Ignoring Risk (CVIR), a simple objective for PU-learning. Both methods dominate previous approaches empirically, and for BBE, we establish formal guarantees that hold whenever we can train a model to cleanly separate out a small subset of positive examples. Our final algorithm (TED)$^n$, alternates between the two procedures, significantly improving both our mixture proportion estimator and classifier