Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

*Steve Hanneke, Amin Karbasi, Shay Moran, Grigoris Velegkas*

Consider the task of learning an unknown concept from a given concept class; to what extent does interacting with a domain expert accelerate the learning process? It is common to measure the effectiveness of learning algorithms by plotting the "learning curve", that is, the decay of the error rate as a function of the algorithm's resources (examples, queries, etc). Thus, the overarching question in this work is whether (and which kind of) interaction accelerates the learning curve. Previous work in interactive learning focused on uniform bounds on the learning rates which only capture the upper envelope of the learning curves over families of data distributions. We thus formalize our overarching question within the distribution dependent framework of universal learning, which aims to understand the performance of learning algorithms on every data distribution, but without requiring a single upper bound which applies uniformly to all distributions. Our main result reveals a fundamental trichotomy of interactive learning rates, thus providing a complete characterization of universal interactive learning. As a corollary we deduce a strong affirmative answer to our overarching question, showing that interaction is beneficial. Remarkably, we show that in important cases such benefits are realized with label queries, that is, by active learning algorithms. On the other hand, our lower bounds apply to arbitrary binary queries and, hence, they hold in any interactive learning setting.

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