Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

*Su Jia, viswanath nagarajan, Fatemeh Navidi, R Ravi*

A fundamental task in active learning involves performing a sequence of tests to identify an unknown hypothesis that is drawn from a known distribution. This problem, known as optimal decision tree induction, has been widely studied for decades and the asymptotically best-possible approximation algorithm has been devised for it. We study a generalization where certain test outcomes are noisy, even in the more general case when the noise is persistent, i.e., repeating the test on the scenario gives the same noisy output, disallowing simple repetition as a way to gain confidence. We design new approximation algorithms for both the non-adaptive setting, where the test sequence must be fixed a-priori, and the adaptive setting where the test sequence depends on the outcomes of prior tests. Previous work in the area assumed at most a constant number of noisy outcomes per test and per scenario and provided approximation ratios that were problem dependent (such as the minimum probability of a hypothesis). Our new approximation algorithms provide guarantees that are nearly best-possible and work for the general case of a large number of noisy outcomes per test or per hypothesis where the performance degrades smoothly with this number. Our results adapt and generalize methods used for submodular ranking and stochastic set cover. We evaluate the performance of our algorithms on two natural applications with noise: toxic chemical identification and active learning of linear classifiers. Despite our logarithmic theoretical approximation guarantees, our methods give solutions with cost very close to the information theoretic minimum, demonstrating the effectiveness of our methods.

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