A Minimax Approach to Supervised Learning

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 29 (NIPS 2016)

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Farzan Farnia, David Tse


Given a task of predicting Y from X, a loss function L, and a set of probability distributions Gamma on (X,Y), what is the optimal decision rule minimizing the worst-case expected loss over Gamma? In this paper, we address this question by introducing a generalization of the maximum entropy principle. Applying this principle to sets of distributions with marginal on X constrained to be the empirical marginal, we provide a minimax interpretation of the maximum likelihood problem over generalized linear models as well as some popular regularization schemes. For quadratic and logarithmic loss functions we revisit well-known linear and logistic regression models. Moreover, for the 0-1 loss we derive a classifier which we call the minimax SVM. The minimax SVM minimizes the worst-case expected 0-1 loss over the proposed Gamma by solving a tractable optimization problem. We perform several numerical experiments to show the power of the minimax SVM in outperforming the SVM.