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Don’t Just Blame Over-parametrization for Over-confidence: Theoretical Analysis of Calibration in Binary Classification

Yu Bai · Song Mei · Huan Wang · Caiming Xiong


Modern machine learning models with high accuracy are often miscalibrated---the predicted top probability does not reflect the actual accuracy, and tends to be \emph{over-confident}. It is commonly believed that such over-confidence is mainly due to \emph{over-parametrization}, in particular when the model is large enough to memorize the training data and maximize the confidence.

In this paper, we show theoretically that over-parametrization is not the only reason for over-confidence. We prove that \emph{logistic regression is inherently over-confident}, in the realizable, under-parametrized setting where the data is generated from the logistic model, and the sample size is much larger than the number of parameters. Further, this over-confidence happens for general well-specified binary classification problems as long as the activation is symmetric and concave on the positive part. Perhaps surprisingly, we also show that over-confidence is not always the case---there exists another activation function (and a suitable loss function) under which the learned classifier is \emph{under-confident} at some probability values. Overall, our theory provides a precise characterization of calibration in realizable binary classification, which we verify on simulations and real data experiments.

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