Minimizers of the Empirical Risk and Risk Monotonicity

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

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Marco Loog, Tom Viering, Alexander Mey


Plotting a learner's average performance against the number of training samples results in a learning curve. Studying such curves on one or more data sets is a way to get to a better understanding of the generalization properties of this learner. The behavior of learning curves is, however, not very well understood and can display (for most researchers) quite unexpected behavior. Our work introduces the formal notion of risk monotonicity, which asks the risk to not deteriorate with increasing training set sizes in expectation over the training samples. We then present the surprising result that various standard learners, specifically those that minimize the empirical risk, can act nonmonotonically irrespective of the training sample size. We provide a theoretical underpinning for specific instantiations from classification, regression, and density estimation. Altogether, the proposed monotonicity notion opens up a whole new direction of research.