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An Attempt to Understand Boosting Algorithm(s)

Last tuesday, at the annual meeting of the French Economic Association, I was having lunch with Alfred, and while we were chatting about modeling issues (econometric models against machine learning prediction), he asked me what boosting was. Since I could not be very specific, we’ve been looking at wikipedia webpage.

Boosting is a machine learning ensemble meta-algorithm for reducing bias primarily and also variance in supervised learning, and a family of machine learning algorithms which convert weak learners to strong ones

One should admit that it is not very informative. But at least, there is the idea that ‘weak learners’ can be used to provide a good predictor. Now, to be honest, I guess I understand the concept. But I still can’t reproduce what I got with standard ‘boosting’ packages.

There are a lot of publications about the concept of ‘boosting’. In 1988, Michael Kearns published Thoughts on Hypothesis Boosting, which is probably the oldest one. About the algorithms, it is possible to find some references. Consider for instance Improving Regressors using Boosting Techniques, by Harris Drucker. Or The Boosting Approach to Machine Learning An Overview by Robert Schapire, among many others. In order to illustrate the use of boosting in the context of regression (and not classification, since I believe it provides a better visualisation) consider the section in Dong-Sheng Cao’s In The boosting: A new idea of building models.

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