The Intriguing Effects of Focal Loss on the Calibration of Deep Neural Networks

Miscalibration -- a mismatch between a model's confidence and its correctness -- of Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) makes their predictions hard for downstream components to trust. Ideally, we want networks to be accurate, calibrated and confident. Temperature scaling, the most popular calibration approach, will calibrate a DNN without affecting its accuracy, but it will also make its correct predictions under-confident. In this paper, we show that replacing the widely used cross-entropy loss with focal loss allows us to learn models that are already very well calibrated. When combined with temperature scaling, focal loss, whilst preserving accuracy and yielding state-of-the-art calibrated models, also preserves the confidence of the model's correct predictions, which is extremely desirable for downstream tasks. We provide a thorough analysis of the factors causing miscalibration, and use the insights we glean from this to theoretically justify the empirically excellent performance of focal loss. We perform extensive experiments on a variety of computer vision (CIFAR-10/100) and NLP (SST, 20 Newsgroup) datasets, and with a wide variety of different network architectures, and show that our approach achieves state-of-the-art accuracy and calibration in almost all cases.

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