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Scalable Ensemble Learning and Computationally Efficient Variance Estimation


Ensemble machine learning methods are often used when the true prediction function is not easily approximated by a single algorithm. The Super Learner algorithm is an ensemble method that has been theoretically proven to represent an asymptotically optimal system for learning. The Super Learner, also known as stacking, combines multiple, typically diverse, base learning algorithms into a single, powerful prediction function through a secondary learning process called metalearning. Although ensemble methods offer superior performance over their singleton counterparts, there is an implicit computational cost to ensembles, as it requires training multiple base learning algorithms. We present several practical solutions to reducing the computational burden of ensemble learning while retaining superior model performance, along with software, code examples and benchmarks.

Further, we present a generalized metalearning method for approximating the combination of the base learners which maximizes a model performance metric of interest. As an example, we create an AUC-maximizing Super Learner and show that this technique works especially well in the case of imbalanced binary outcomes. We conclude by presenting a computationally efficient approach to approximating variance for cross-validated AUC estimates using influence functions. This technique can be used generally to obtain confidence intervals for any estimator, however, due to the extensive use of AUC in the field of biostatistics, cross-validated AUC is used as a practical, motivating example.

The goal of this body of work is to provide new scalable approaches to obtaining the highest performing predictive models while optimizing any model performance metric of interest, and further, to provide computationally efficient inference for that estimate.

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