Efficient Set-Valued Prediction in Multi-Class Classification

In cases of uncertainty, a multi-class classifier preferably returns a set of candidate classes instead of predicting a single class label with little guarantee. More precisely, the classifier should strive for an optimal balance between the correctness (the true class is among the candidates) and the precision (the candidates are not too many) of its prediction. We formalize this problem within a general decision-theoretic framework that unifies most of the existing work in this area. In this framework, uncertainty is quantified in terms of conditional class probabilities, and the quality of a predicted set is measured in terms of a utility function. We then address the problem of finding the Bayes-optimal prediction, i.e., the subset of class labels with highest expected utility. For this problem, which is computationally challenging as there are exponentially (in the number of classes) many predictions to choose from, we propose efficient algorithms that can be applied to a broad family of utility functions. Our theoretical results are complemented by experimental studies, in which we analyze the proposed algorithms in terms of predictive accuracy and runtime efficiency.

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