When Does Optimizing a Proper Loss Yield Calibration?

Published: 21 Sept 2023, Last Modified: 02 Nov 2023NeurIPS 2023 spotlightEveryoneRevisionsBibTeX
Keywords: calibration, deep learning, theory, optimization
TL;DR: We theoretically characterize when (sub-optimally) optimizing a proper loss, as we do in DNNs, leads to a near-optimally calibrated predictor.
Abstract: Optimizing proper loss functions is popularly believed to yield predictors with good calibration properties; the intuition being that for such losses, the global optimum is to predict the ground-truth probabilities, which is indeed calibrated. However, typical machine learning models are trained to approximately minimize loss over restricted families of predictors, that are unlikely to contain the ground truth. Under what circumstances does optimizing proper loss over a restricted family yield calibrated models? What precise calibration guarantees does it give? In this work, we provide a rigorous answer to these questions. We replace the global optimality with a local optimality condition stipulating that the (proper) loss of the predictor cannot be reduced much by post-processing its predictions with a certain family of Lipschitz functions. We show that any predictor with this local optimality satisfies smooth calibration as defined in [Kakade and Foster, 2008, Błasiok et al., 2023]. Local optimality is plausibly satisfied by well-trained DNNs, which suggests an explanation for why they are calibrated from proper loss minimization alone. Finally, we show that the connection between local optimality and calibration error goes both ways: nearly calibrated predictors are also nearly locally optimal.
Submission Number: 9543