Modeling Text with Decision Forests using Categorical-Set Splits

21 Sep 2020  ·  Mathieu Guillame-Bert, Sebastian Bruch, Petr Mitrichev, Petr Mikheev, Jan Pfeifer ·

Decision forest algorithms typically model data by learning a binary tree structure recursively where every node splits the feature space into two sub-regions, sending examples into the left or right branch as a result. In axis-aligned decision forests, the "decision" to route an input example is the result of the evaluation of a condition on a single dimension in the feature space. Such conditions are learned using efficient, often greedy algorithms that optimize a local loss function. For example, a node's condition may be a threshold function applied to a numerical feature, and its parameter may be learned by sweeping over the set of values available at that node and choosing a threshold that maximizes some measure of purity. Crucially, whether an algorithm exists to learn and evaluate conditions for a feature type determines whether a decision forest algorithm can model that feature type at all. For example, decision forests today cannot consume textual features directly -- such features must be transformed to summary statistics instead. In this work, we set out to bridge that gap. We define a condition that is specific to categorical-set features -- defined as an unordered set of categorical variables -- and present an algorithm to learn it, thereby equipping decision forests with the ability to directly model text, albeit without preserving sequential order. Our algorithm is efficient during training and the resulting conditions are fast to evaluate with our extension of the QuickScorer inference algorithm. Experiments on benchmark text classification datasets demonstrate the utility and effectiveness of our proposal.

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