Post-hoc estimators for learning to defer to an expert

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

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Harikrishna Narasimhan, Wittawat Jitkrittum, Aditya K. Menon, Ankit Rawat, Sanjiv Kumar


Many practical settings allow a learner to defer predictions to one or more costly experts. For example, the learning to defer paradigm allows a learner to defer to a human expert, at some monetary cost. Similarly, the adaptive inference paradigm allows a base model to defer to one or more large models, at some computational cost. The goal in these settings is to learn classification and deferral mechanisms to optimise a suitable accuracy-cost tradeoff. To achieve this, a central issue studied in prior work is the design of a coherent loss function for both mechanisms. In this work, we demonstrate that existing losses have two subtle limitations: they can encourage underfitting when there is a high cost of deferring, and the deferral function can have a weak dependence on the base model predictions. To resolve these issues, we propose a post-hoc training scheme: we train a deferral function on top of a base model, with the objective of predicting to defer when the base model's error probability exceeds the cost of the expert model. This may be viewed as applying a partial surrogate to the ideal deferral loss, which can lead to a tighter approximation and thus better performance. Empirically, we verify the efficacy of post-hoc training on benchmarks for learning to defer and adaptive inference.