An improved active learning method has been devised for training data classifiers. One example of a data classifier is the algorithm used by the United States Postal Service since the 1960s to recognize scans of handwritten digits for processing zip codes. Active learning algorithms enable rapid training with minimal investment of time on the part of human experts to provide training examples consisting of correctly classified (labeled) input data. They function by identifying which examples would be most profitable for a human expert to label. The goal is to maximize classifier accuracy while minimizing the number of examples the expert must label.
Although there are several well-established methods for active learning, they may not operate well when irrelevant examples are present in the data set. That is, they may select an item for labeling that the expert simply cannot assign to any of the valid classes. In the context of classifying handwritten digits, the irrelevant items may include stray marks, smudges, and mis-scans. Querying the expert about these items results in wasted time or erroneous labels, if the expert is forced to assign the item to one of the valid classes.
In contrast, the new algorithm provides a specific mechanism for avoiding querying the irrelevant items. This algorithm has two components: an active learner (which could be a conventional active learning algorithm) and a relevance classifier. The combination of these components yields a method, denoted Relevance Bias, that enables the active learner to avoid querying irrelevant data so as to increase its learning rate and efficiency when irrelevant items are present.
The algorithm collects irrelevant data in a set of rejected examples, then trains the relevance classifier to distinguish between labeled (relevant) training examples and the rejected ones. The active learner combines its ranking of the items with the probability that they are relevant to yield a final decision about which item to present to the expert for labeling. Experiments on several data sets have demonstrated that the Relevance Bias approach significantly decreases the number of irrelevant items queried and also accelerates learning speed.