Highlight Article | Item Response Theory Based Ensemble in Machine Learning

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Classification ensembles are increasingly gaining attention from the area of machine learning, especially when we focus on improving the accuracy. The most important feature distinguishing the ensemble learning from other types of learning is that it combines the predictions from a group of classifiers rather than depending on a single classifier. It is proved in many cases that the aggregated performance metrics, such as bagging, boosting and incremental learning outperform others without a collective decision strategy.


If one had to identify an idea as central and novel to ensemble learning, it is the combination rule, which can be characterized in two ways: simple majority voting and weighted majority voting. Simple majority voting is just a decision rule which combines the decisions of the classifiers in the ensemble. It is widely applied in ensemble learning due to its simplicity and applicability. Weighted majority voting can be done by multiplying a weight to the decision of each classifier to reflect its ability, and then make the final decision by combining the weighted decisions. These two methods utilize the ability of classifiers based on their performance on training the data. Thus it does not require any parameter tuning once the individual classifiers have been trained.


Here we propose a novel probabilistic framework for the weighted voting classification ensemble. We treat each data point as a problem and different classifier as a subject taking an exam in class. As we know, the performance of one student on a problem depends on two major factors: difficulty of the problem and competence of the student. In the training data, some have significant features and are easy to classify, whereas some are difficult cases because they are near class boundaries. Thus, similar to an exam in class, we define the competence of a classifier as the capability of correctly classifying difficult cases, rather than the number of correctly classified cases. For instance, suppose a classifier correctly classifies some easy cases but fails to deal with difficult cases. Another classifier correctly classifies some difficult cases, while incorrectly classifies easy cases. Then it makes sense that a higher weight is given to the second classifier than the first one.


In this paper, we propose a method which can simultaneously evaluate the ability of a classifier and difficulty of classifying a case. Here, we employ the item response theory (IRT) framework, which is widely applied to psychological and educational research, to estimate the latent ability of classifiers.



In this article, we propose a novel probabilistic framework to improve the accuracy of a weighted majority voting algorithm. In order to assign higher weights to the classifiers which can correctly classify hard-to-classify instances, we introduce the item response theory (IRT) framework to evaluate the samples difficulty and classifiers ability simultaneously. We assigned the weights to classifiers based on their abilities. Three models are created with different assumptions suitable for different cases. When making an inference, we keep a balance between the accuracy and complexity. In our experiment, all the base models are constructed by single trees via bootstrap. To explain the models, we illustrate how the IRT ensemble model constructs the classifying boundary. We also compare their performance with other widely used methods and show that our model performs well on 19 datasets.


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Item Response Theory Based Ensemble in Machine Learning

Ziheng Chen, Hongshik Ahn






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