Pointwise-competitive classifier from class F is required to classify identically to the best classifier in hindsight from F. For noisy, agnostic settings we present a strategy for learning pointwise-competitive classifiers from a finite training sample provided that the classifier can abstain from prediction at a certain region of its choice. For some interesting hypothesis classes and families of distributions, the measure of this rejected region is shown to be diminishing at a fast rate, with high probability. Exact implementation of the proposed learning strategy is dependent on an ERM oracle that can be hard to compute in the agnostic case. We thus consider a heuristic approximation procedure that is based on SVMs, and show empirically that this algorithm consistently outperforms a traditional rejection mechanism based on distance from decision boundary.

Rakhlin, Alexander, Sridharan, Karthik, Tewari, Ambuj

We develop a theory of online learning by defining several complexity measures. Among them are analogues of Rademacher complexity, covering numbers and fat-shattering dimension from statistical learning theory. Relationship among these complexity measures, their connection to online learning, and tools for bounding them are provided. We apply these results to various learning problems. We provide a complete characterization of online learnability in the supervised setting.

Mehta, Nishant A., Williamson, Robert C.

Empirical risk minimization (ERM) is a fundamental learning rule for statistical learning problems where the data is generated according to some unknown distribution $\mathsf{P}$ and returns a hypothesis $f$ chosen from a fixed class $\mathcal{F}$ with small loss $\ell$. In the parametric setting, depending upon $(\ell, \mathcal{F},\mathsf{P})$ ERM can have slow $(1/\sqrt{n})$ or fast $(1/n)$ rates of convergence of the excess risk as a function of the sample size $n$. There exist several results that give sufficient conditions for fast rates in terms of joint properties of $\ell$, $\mathcal{F}$, and $\mathsf{P}$, such as the margin condition and the Bernstein condition. In the non-statistical prediction with expert advice setting, there is an analogous slow and fast rate phenomenon, and it is entirely characterized in terms of the mixability of the loss $\ell$ (there being no role there for $\mathcal{F}$ or $\mathsf{P}$). The notion of stochastic mixability builds a bridge between these two models of learning, reducing to classical mixability in a special case. The present paper presents a direct proof of fast rates for ERM in terms of stochastic mixability of $(\ell,\mathcal{F}, \mathsf{P})$, and in so doing provides new insight into the fast-rates phenomenon. The proof exploits an old result of Kemperman on the solution to the general moment problem. We also show a partial converse that suggests a characterization of fast rates for ERM in terms of stochastic mixability is possible.

von Luxburg, Ulrike, Schoelkopf, Bernhard

Statistical learning theory provides the theoretical basis for many of today's machine learning algorithms. In this article we attempt to give a gentle, non-technical overview over the key ideas and insights of statistical learning theory. We target at a broad audience, not necessarily machine learning researchers. This paper can serve as a starting point for people who want to get an overview on the field before diving into technical details.

Neu, Gergely, Zhivotovskiy, Nikita

In the setting of sequential prediction of individual $\{0, 1\}$-sequences with expert advice, we show that by allowing the learner to abstain from the prediction by paying a cost marginally smaller than $\frac 12$ (say, $0.49$), it is possible to achieve expected regret bounds that are independent of the time horizon $T$. We exactly characterize the dependence on the abstention cost $c$ and the number of experts $N$ by providing matching upper and lower bounds of order $\frac{\log N}{1-2c}$, which is to be contrasted with the best possible rate of $\sqrt{T\log N}$ that is available without the option to abstain. We also discuss various extensions of our model, including a setting where the sequence of abstention costs can change arbitrarily over time, where we show regret bounds interpolating between the slow and the fast rates mentioned above, under some natural assumptions on the sequence of abstention costs.