Model Similarity Mitigates Test Set Overuse

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

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Horia Mania, John Miller, Ludwig Schmidt, Moritz Hardt, Benjamin Recht


Excessive reuse of test data has become commonplace in today's machine learning workflows. Popular benchmarks, competitions, industrial scale tuning, among other applications, all involve test data reuse beyond guidance by statistical confidence bounds. Nonetheless, recent replication studies give evidence that popular benchmarks continue to support progress despite years of extensive reuse. We proffer a new explanation for the apparent longevity of test data: Many proposed models are similar in their predictions and we prove that this similarity mitigates overfitting. Specifically, we show empirically that models proposed for the ImageNet ILSVRC benchmark agree in their predictions well beyond what we can conclude from their accuracy levels alone. Likewise, models created by large scale hyperparameter search enjoy high levels of similarity. Motivated by these empirical observations, we give a non-asymptotic generalization bound that takes similarity into account, leading to meaningful confidence bounds in practical settings.