Learning Optimal Conformal Classifiers

Modern deep learning based classifiers show very high accuracy on test data but this does not provide sufficient guarantees for safe deployment, especially in high-stake AI applications such as medical diagnosis. Usually, predictions are obtained without a reliable uncertainty estimate or a formal guarantee. Conformal prediction (CP) addresses these issues by using the classifier's predictions, e.g., its probability estimates, to predict confidence sets containing the true class with a user-specified probability. However, using CP as a separate processing step after training prevents the underlying model from adapting to the prediction of confidence sets. Thus, this paper explores strategies to differentiate through CP during training with the goal of training model with the conformal wrapper end-to-end. In our approach, conformal training (ConfTr), we specifically "simulate" conformalization on mini-batches during training. Compared to standard training, ConfTr reduces the average confidence set size (inefficiency) of state-of-the-art CP methods applied after training. Moreover, it allows to "shape" the confidence sets predicted at test time, which is difficult for standard CP. On experiments with several datasets, we show ConfTr can influence how inefficiency is distributed across classes, or guide the composition of confidence sets in terms of the included classes, while retaining the guarantees offered by CP.

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