An Empirical Bayes Approach to Optimizing Machine Learning Algorithms

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 30 (NIPS 2017)

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James McInerney


There is rapidly growing interest in using Bayesian optimization to tune model and inference hyperparameters for machine learning algorithms that take a long time to run. For example, Spearmint is a popular software package for selecting the optimal number of layers and learning rate in neural networks. But given that there is uncertainty about which hyperparameters give the best predictive performance, and given that fitting a model for each choice of hyperparameters is costly, it is arguably wasteful to "throw away" all but the best result, as per Bayesian optimization. A related issue is the danger of overfitting the validation data when optimizing many hyperparameters. In this paper, we consider an alternative approach that uses more samples from the hyperparameter selection procedure to average over the uncertainty in model hyperparameters. The resulting approach, empirical Bayes for hyperparameter averaging (EB-Hyp) predicts held-out data better than Bayesian optimization in two experiments on latent Dirichlet allocation and deep latent Gaussian models. EB-Hyp suggests a simpler approach to evaluating and deploying machine learning algorithms that does not require a separate validation data set and hyperparameter selection procedure.