skip to main content

Attention:

The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 5:00 PM ET until 11:00 PM ET on Friday, June 21 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Title: A cautionary tale on fitting decision trees to data from additive models: generalization lower bounds
Decision trees are important both as interpretable models amenable to high-stakes decision making, and as building blocks of ensemble methods such as random forests and gradient boosting. Their statistical properties, however, are not well understood. The most cited prior works have focused on deriving pointwise consistency guarantees for CART in a classical nonparametric regression setting. We take a different approach, and advocate studying the generalization performance of decision trees with respect to different generative regression models. This allows us to elicit their inductive bias, that is, the assumptions the algorithms make (or do not make) to generalize to new data, thereby guiding practitioners on when and how to apply these methods. In this paper, we focus on sparse additive generative models, which have both low statistical complexity and some nonparametric flexibility. We prove a sharp squared error generalization lower bound for a large class of decision tree algorithms fitted to sparse additive models with C component functions. This bound is surprisingly much worse than the minimax rate for estimating such sparse additive models. The inefficiency is due not to greediness, but to the loss in power for detecting global structure when we average responses solely over each leaf, an observation that suggests opportunities to improve tree-based algorithms, for example, by hierarchical shrinkage. To prove these bounds, we develop new technical machinery, establishing a novel connection between decision tree estimation and rate-distortion theory, a sub-field of information theory.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
2023505
NSF-PAR ID:
10343667
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proeedings of the International Workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics
ISSN:
1525-531X
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Popular parametric and semiparametric hazards regression models for clustered survival data are inappropriate and inadequate when the unknown effects of different covariates and clustering are complex. This calls for a flexible modeling framework to yield efficient survival prediction. Moreover, for some survival studies involving time to occurrence of some asymptomatic events, survival times are typically interval censored between consecutive clinical inspections. In this article, we propose a robust semiparametric model for clustered interval‐censored survival data under a paradigm of Bayesian ensemble learning, called soft Bayesian additive regression trees or SBART (Linero and Yang, 2018), which combines multiple sparse (soft) decision trees to attain excellent predictive accuracy. We develop a novel semiparametric hazards regression model by modeling the hazard function as a product of a parametric baseline hazard function and a nonparametric component that uses SBART to incorporate clustering, unknown functional forms of the main effects, and interaction effects of various covariates. In addition to being applicable for left‐censored, right‐censored, and interval‐censored survival data, our methodology is implemented using a data augmentation scheme which allows for existing Bayesian backfitting algorithms to be used. We illustrate the practical implementation and advantages of our method via simulation studies and an analysis of a prostate cancer surgery study where dependence on the experience and skill level of the physicians leads to clustering of survival times. We conclude by discussing our method's applicability in studies involving high‐dimensional data with complex underlying associations.

     
    more » « less
  2. Summary

    Ensembles of decision trees are a useful tool for obtaining flexible estimates of regression functions. Examples of these methods include gradient-boosted decision trees, random forests and Bayesian classification and regression trees. Two potential shortcomings of tree ensembles are their lack of smoothness and their vulnerability to the curse of dimensionality. We show that these issues can be overcome by instead considering sparsity inducing soft decision trees in which the decisions are treated as probabilistic. We implement this in the context of the Bayesian additive regression trees framework and illustrate its promising performance through testing on benchmark data sets. We provide strong theoretical support for our methodology by showing that the posterior distribution concentrates at the minimax rate (up to a logarithmic factor) for sparse functions and functions with additive structures in the high dimensional regime where the dimensionality of the covariate space is allowed to grow nearly exponentially in the sample size. Our method also adapts to the unknown smoothness and sparsity levels, and can be implemented by making minimal modifications to existing Bayesian additive regression tree algorithms.

     
    more » « less
  3. Nonparametric regression on complex domains has been a challenging task as most existing methods, such as ensemble models based on binary decision trees, are not designed to account for intrinsic geometries and domain boundaries. This article proposes a Bayesian additive regression spanning trees (BAST) model for nonparametric regression on manifolds, with an emphasis on complex constrained domains or irregularly shaped spaces embedded in Euclidean spaces. Our model is built upon a random spanning tree manifold partition model as each weak learner, which is capable of capturing any irregularly shaped spatially contiguous partitions while respecting intrinsic geometries and domain boundary constraints. Utilizing many nice properties of spanning tree structures, we design an efficient Bayesian inference algorithm. Equipped with a soft prediction scheme, BAST is demonstrated to significantly outperform other competing methods in simulation experiments and in an application to the chlorophyll data in Aral Sea, due to its strong local adaptivity to different levels of smoothness. 
    more » « less
  4. Sparse decision tree optimization has been one of the most fundamental problems in AI since its inception and is a challenge at the core of interpretable machine learning. Sparse decision tree optimization is computationally hard, and despite steady effort since the 1960's, breakthroughs have been made on the problem only within the past few years, primarily on the problem of finding optimal sparse decision trees. However, current state-of-the-art algorithms often require impractical amounts of computation time and memory to find optimal or near-optimal trees for some real-world datasets, particularly those having several continuous-valued features. Given that the search spaces of these decision tree optimization problems are massive, can we practically hope to find a sparse decision tree that competes in accuracy with a black box machine learning model? We address this problem via smart guessing strategies that can be applied to any optimal branch-and-bound-based decision tree algorithm. The guesses come from knowledge gleaned from black box models. We show that by using these guesses, we can reduce the run time by multiple orders of magnitude while providing bounds on how far the resulting trees can deviate from the black box's accuracy and expressive power. Our approach enables guesses about how to bin continuous features, the size of the tree, and lower bounds on the error for the optimal decision tree. Our experiments show that in many cases we can rapidly construct sparse decision trees that match the accuracy of black box models. To summarize: when you are having trouble optimizing, just guess. 
    more » « less
  5. null (Ed.)
    Tensors are becoming prevalent in modern applications such as medical imaging and digital marketing. In this paper, we propose a sparse tensor additive regression (STAR) that models a scalar response as a flexible nonparametric function of tensor covariates. The proposed model effectively exploits the sparse and low-rank structures in the tensor additive regression. We formulate the parameter estimation as a non-convex optimization problem, and propose an efficient penalized alternating minimization algorithm. We establish a non-asymptotic error bound for the estimator obtained from each iteration of the proposed algorithm, which reveals an interplay between the optimization error and the statistical rate of convergence. We demonstrate the efficacy of STAR through extensive comparative simulation studies, and an application to the click-through-rate prediction in online advertising. 
    more » « less