Cross-Entropy Loss Functions: Theoretical Analysis and Applications
Proceedings of the 40th International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 202:23803-23828, 2023.
Cross-entropy is a widely used loss function in applications. It coincides with the logistic loss applied to the outputs of a neural network, when the softmax is used. But, what guarantees can we rely on when using cross-entropy as a surrogate loss? We present a theoretical analysis of a broad family of loss functions, comp-sum losses, that includes cross-entropy (or logistic loss), generalized cross-entropy, the mean absolute error and other cross-entropy-like loss functions. We give the first $H$-consistency bounds for these loss functions. These are non-asymptotic guarantees that upper bound the zero-one loss estimation error in terms of the estimation error of a surrogate loss, for the specific hypothesis set $H$ used. We further show that our bounds are tight. These bounds depend on quantities called minimizability gaps. To make them more explicit, we give a specific analysis of these gaps for comp-sum losses. We also introduce a new family of loss functions, smooth adversarial comp-sum losses, that are derived from their comp-sum counterparts by adding in a related smooth term. We show that these loss functions are beneficial in the adversarial setting by proving that they admit $H$-consistency bounds. This leads to new adversarial robustness algorithms that consist of minimizing a regularized smooth adversarial comp-sum loss. While our main purpose is a theoretical analysis, we also present an extensive empirical analysis comparing comp-sum losses. We further report the results of a series of experiments demonstrating that our adversarial robustness algorithms outperform the current state-of-the-art, while also achieving a superior non-adversarial accuracy.