Smooth Loss Functions for Deep Top-k Classification

Leonard Berrada, Andrew Zisserman, M. Pawan Kumar

Feb 15, 2018 (modified: Feb 21, 2018) ICLR 2018 Conference Blind Submission readers: everyone Show Bibtex
  • Abstract: The top-$k$ error is a common measure of performance in machine learning and computer vision. In practice, top-$k$ classification is typically performed with deep neural networks trained with the cross-entropy loss. Theoretical results indeed suggest that cross-entropy is an optimal learning objective for such a task in the limit of infinite data. In the context of limited and noisy data however, the use of a loss function that is specifically designed for top-$k$ classification can bring significant improvements. Our empirical evidence suggests that the loss function must be smooth and have non-sparse gradients in order to work well with deep neural networks. Consequently, we introduce a family of smoothed loss functions that are suited to top-$k$ optimization via deep learning. The widely used cross-entropy is a special case of our family. Evaluating our smooth loss functions is computationally challenging: a na{\"i}ve algorithm would require $\mathcal{O}(\binom{n}{k})$ operations, where $n$ is the number of classes. Thanks to a connection to polynomial algebra and a divide-and-conquer approach, we provide an algorithm with a time complexity of $\mathcal{O}(k n)$. Furthermore, we present a novel approximation to obtain fast and stable algorithms on GPUs with single floating point precision. We compare the performance of the cross-entropy loss and our margin-based losses in various regimes of noise and data size, for the predominant use case of $k=5$. Our investigation reveals that our loss is more robust to noise and overfitting than cross-entropy.
  • TL;DR: Smooth Loss Function for Top-k Error Minimization