Efficient and effective uncertainty quantification in gradient boosting via cyclical gradient MCMC
Gradient boosting decision trees (GBDTs) are widely applied on tabular data in real-world ML systems. Quantifying uncertainty in GBDT models is thus essential for decision making and for avoiding costly mistakes to ensure an interpretable and safe deployment of tree-based models. Recently, Bayesian ensemble of GBDT models is used to measure uncertainty by leveraging an algorithm called stochastic gradient Langevin boosting (SGLB), which combines GB with stochastic gradient MCMC (SG-MCMC). Although theoretically sound, SGLB gets trapped easily on a particular mode of the Bayesian posterior, just like other forms of SG-MCMCs. Therefore, a single SGLB model can often fail to produce uncertainty estimates of high-fidelity. To address this problem, we present Cyclical SGLB (cSGLB) which incorporates a Cyclical Gradient schedule in the SGLB algorithm. The cyclical gradient mechanism promotes new mode discovery and helps explore high multimodal posterior distributions. As a result, cSGLB can efficiently quantify uncertainty in GB with only a single model. In addition, we present another cSGLB variant with data bootstrapping to further encourage diversity among posterior samples. We conduct extensive experiments to demonstrate the efficiency and effectiveness of our algorithm, and show that it outperforms the state-of-the-art SGLB on uncertainty quantification, especially when uncertainty is used for detecting out-of-domain (OOD) data or distributional shifts.