Near-Optimal Bayesian Active Learning with Noisy Observations

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 23 (NIPS 2010)

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Daniel Golovin, Andreas Krause, Debajyoti Ray


We tackle the fundamental problem of Bayesian active learning with noise, where we need to adaptively select from a number of expensive tests in order to identify an unknown hypothesis sampled from a known prior distribution. In the case of noise-free observations, a greedy algorithm called generalized binary search (GBS) is known to perform near-optimally. We show that if the observations are noisy, perhaps surprisingly, GBS can perform very poorly. We develop EC2, a novel, greedy active learning algorithm and prove that it is competitive with the optimal policy, thus obtaining the first competitiveness guarantees for Bayesian active learning with noisy observations. Our bounds rely on a recently discovered diminishing returns property called adaptive submodularity, generalizing the classical notion of submodular set functions to adaptive policies. Our results hold even if the tests have non–uniform cost and their noise is correlated. We also propose EffECXtive, a particularly fast approximation of EC2, and evaluate it on a Bayesian experimental design problem involving human subjects, intended to tease apart competing economic theories of how people make decisions under uncertainty.