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How to Evaluate the Skill of Deep Learning Models

Last Updated on August 19, 2019

I often see practitioners expressing confusion about how to evaluate a deep learning model.

This is often obvious from questions like:

  • What random seed should I use?
  • Do I need a random seed?
  • Why don’t I get the same results on subsequent runs?

In this post, you will discover the procedure that you can use to evaluate deep learning models and the rationale for using it.

You will also discover useful related statistics that you can calculate to present the skill of your model, such as standard deviation, standard error, and confidence intervals.

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How to Evaluate the Skill of Deep Learning Models

How to Evaluate the Skill of Deep Learning Models
Photo by Allagash Brewing, some rights reserved.

The Beginner’s Mistake

You fit the model to your training data and evaluate it on the test dataset, then report the skill.

Perhaps you use k-fold cross validation to evaluate the model, then report the skill of the model.

This is a mistake made by beginners.

It looks like you’re doing the right thing, but there is a key issue you have not accounted for:

Deep learning models are stochastic.

Artificial neural networks use randomness while being fit on a dataset, such as random initial weights and random shuffling of data during each training epoch during stochastic gradient descent.

This means that each time the same model is fit on the same data, it may give different predictions and in turn have different overall skill.

Estimating Model Skill
(Controlling for Model Variance)

We don’t have all possible data; if we did, we would not need to make predictions.

We have a limited sample of data, and from it we need to discover the best model we can.

Use a Train-Test Split

We do that by splitting the data into two parts, fitting a model or specific model configuration on the first part of the data and using the fit model to make predictions on the rest, then evaluating the skill of those predictions. This is called a train-test split and we use the skill as an estimate for how well we think the model will perform in practice when it makes predictions on new data.

For example, here’s some pseudocode for evaluating a model using a train-test split:

train, test = split(data)
model = fit(train.X, train.y)
predictions = model.predict(test.X)
skill = compare(test.y, predictions)

train, test = split(data)

model = fit(train.X, train.y)

predictions = model.predict(test.X)

skill = compare(test.y, predictions)

A train-test split is a good approach to use if you have a lot of data or a very slow model to train, but the resulting skill score for the model will be noisy because of the randomness in the data (variance of the model).

This means that the same model fit on different data will give different model skill scores.

Use k-Fold Cross Validation

We can often tighten this up and get more accurate estimates of model skill using techniques like k-fold cross validation. This is a technique that systematically splits up the available data into k-folds, fits the model on k-1 folds, evaluates it on the held out fold, and repeats this process for each fold.

This results in k different models that have k different sets of predictions, and in turn, k different skill scores.

For example, here’s some pseudocode for evaluating a model using a k-fold cross validation:

scores = list()
for i in k:
train, test = split_old(data, i)
model = fit(train.X, train.y)
predictions = model.predict(test.X)
skill = compare(test.y, predictions)
scores.append(skill)

scores = list()

for i in k:

train, test = split_old(data, i)

model = fit(train.X, train.y)

predictions = model.predict(test.X)

skill = compare(test.y, predictions)

scores.append(skill)

A population of skill scores is more useful as we can take the mean and report the average expected performance of the model, which is likely to be closer to the actual performance of the model in practice. For example:

mean_skill = sum(scores) / count(scores)

mean_skill = sum(scores) / count(scores)

We can also calculate a standard deviation using the mean_skill to get an idea of the average spread of scores around the mean_skill:

standard_deviation = sqrt(1/count(scores) * sum( (score – mean_skill)^2 ))

standard_deviation = sqrt(1/count(scores) * sum( (score – mean_skill)^2 ))

Estimating a Stochastic Model’s Skill
(Controlling for Model Stability)

Stochastic models, like deep neural networks, add an additional source of randomness.

This additional randomness gives the model more flexibility when learning, but can make the model less stable (e.g. different results when the same model is trained on the same data).

This is different from model variance that gives different results when the same model is trained on different data.

To get a robust estimate of the skill of a stochastic model, we must take this additional source of variance into account; we must control for it.

Fix the Random Seed

One way is to use the same randomness every time the model is fit. We can do that by fixing the random number seed used by the system and then evaluating or fitting the model. For example:

seed(1)
scores = list()
for i in k:
train, test = split_old(data, i)
model = fit(train.X, train.y)
predictions = model.predict(test.X)
skill = compare(test.y, predictions)
scores.append(skill)

seed(1)

scores = list()

for i in k:

train, test = split_old(data, i)

model = fit(train.X, train.y)

predictions = model.predict(test.X)

skill = compare(test.y, predictions)

scores.append(skill)

This is good for tutorials and demonstrations when the same result is needed every time your code is run.

This is fragile and not recommended for evaluating models.

See the post:

Repeat Evaluation Experiments

A more robust approach is to repeat the experiment of evaluating a non-stochastic model multiple times.

For example:

scores = list()
for i in repeats:
run_scores = list()
for j in k:
train, test = split_old(data, j)
model = fit(train.X, train.y)
predictions = model.predict(test.X)
skill = compare(test.y, predictions)
run_scores.append(skill)
scores.append(mean(run_scores))

scores = list()

for i in repeats:

run_scores = list()

for j in k:

train, test = split_old(data, j)

model = fit(train.X, train.y)

predictions = model.predict(test.X)

skill = compare(test.y, predictions)

run_scores.append(skill)

scores.append(mean(run_scores))

Note, we calculate the mean of the estimated mean model skill, the so-called grand mean.

This is my recommended procedure for estimating the skill of a deep learning model.

Because repeats is often >=30, we can easily calculate the standard error of the mean model skill, which is how much the estimated mean of model skill score differs from the unknown actual mean model skill (e.g. how wrong mean_skill might be)

standard_error = standard_deviation / sqrt(count(scores))

standard_error = standard_deviation / sqrt(count(scores))

Further, we can use the standard_error to calculate a confidence interval for mean_skill. This assumes that the distribution of the results is Gaussian, which you can check by looking at a Histogram, Q-Q plot, or using statistical tests on the collected scores.

For example, the interval of 95% is (1.96 * standard_error) around the mean skill.

interval = standard_error * 1.96
lower_interval = mean_skill – interval
upper_interval = mean_skill + interval

interval = standard_error * 1.96

lower_interval = mean_skill – interval

upper_interval = mean_skill + interval

There are other perhaps more statistically robust methods for calculating confidence intervals than using the standard error of the grand mean, such as:

How Unstable Are Neural Networks?

It depends on your problem, on the network, and on its configuration.

I would recommend performing a sensitivity analysis to find out.

Evaluate the same model on the same data many times (30, 100, or thousands) and only vary the seed for the random number generator.

Then review the mean and standard deviation of the skill scores produced. The standard deviation (average distance of scores from the mean score) will give you an idea of just how unstable your model is.

How Many Repeats?

I would recommend at least 30, perhaps 100, even thousands, limited only by your time and computer resources, and diminishing returns (e.g. standard error on the mean_skill).

More rigorously, I would recommend an experiment that looked at the impact on estimated model skill versus the number of repeats and the calculation of the standard error (how much the mean estimated performance differs from the true underlying population mean).

Further Reading

Summary

In this post, you discovered how to evaluate the skill of deep learning models.

Specifically, you learned:

  • The common mistake made by beginners when evaluating deep learning models.
  • The rationale for using repeated k-fold cross validation to evaluate deep learning models.
  • How to calculate related model skill statistics, such as standard deviation, standard error, and confidence intervals.

Do you have any questions about estimating the skill of deep learning models?
Post your questions in the comments and I will do my best to answer.

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