When in Doubt: Neural Non-Parametric Uncertainty Quantification for Epidemic Forecasting

Accurate and trustworthy epidemic forecasting is an important problem that has impact on public health planning and disease mitigation. Most existing epidemic forecasting models disregard uncertainty quantification, resulting in mis-calibrated predictions. Recent works in deep neural models for uncertainty-aware time-series forecasting also have several limitations; e.g. it is difficult to specify meaningful priors in Bayesian NNs, while methods like deep ensembling are computationally expensive in practice. In this paper, we fill this important gap. We model the forecasting task as a probabilistic generative process and propose a functional neural process model called EPIFNP, which directly models the probability density of the forecast value. EPIFNP leverages a dynamic stochastic correlation graph to model the correlations between sequences in a non-parametric way, and designs different stochastic latent variables to capture functional uncertainty from different perspectives. Our extensive experiments in a real-time flu forecasting setting show that EPIFNP significantly outperforms previous state-of-the-art models in both accuracy and calibration metrics, up to 2.5x in accuracy and 2.4x in calibration. Additionally, due to properties of its generative process,EPIFNP learns the relations between the current season and similar patterns of historical seasons,enabling interpretable forecasts. Beyond epidemic forecasting, the EPIFNP can be of independent interest for advancing principled uncertainty quantification in deep sequential models for predictive analytics

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