Evaluating model performance under worst-case subpopulations

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)

Bibtex Paper Reviews And Public Comment » Supplemental


Mike Li, Hongseok Namkoong, Shangzhou Xia


The performance of ML models degrades when the training population is different from that seen under operation. Towards assessing distributional robustness, we study the worst-case performance of a model over all subpopulations of a given size, defined with respect to core attributes $Z$. This notion of robustness can consider arbitrary (continuous) attributes $Z$, and automatically accounts for complex intersectionality in disadvantaged groups. We develop a scalable yet principled two-stage estimation procedure that can evaluate the robustness of state-of-the-art models. We prove that our procedure enjoys several finite-sample convergence guarantees, including dimension-free convergence. Instead of overly conservative notions based on Rademacher complexities, our evaluation error depends on the dimension of $Z$ only through the out-of-sample error in estimating the performance conditional on $Z$. On real datasets, we demonstrate that our method certifies the robustness of a model and prevents deployment of unreliable models.