Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track
Many classification problems consider classes that form a hierarchy. Classifiers that are aware of this hierarchy may be able to make confident predictions at a coarse level despite being uncertain at the fine-grained level. While it is generally possible to vary the granularity of predictions using a threshold at inference time, most contemporary work considers only leaf-node prediction, and almost no prior work has compared methods at multiple operating points. We present an efficient algorithm to produce operating characteristic curves for any method that assigns a score to every class in the hierarchy. Applying this technique to evaluate existing methods reveals that top-down classifiers are dominated by a naive flat softmax classifier across the entire operating range. We further propose two novel loss functions and show that a soft variant of the structured hinge loss is able to significantly outperform the flat baseline. Finally, we investigate the poor accuracy of top-down classifiers and demonstrate that they perform relatively well on unseen classes.