Hyperparameter optimization

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In the context of machine learning, hyperparameter optimization or model selection is the problem of choosing a set of hyperparameters for a learning algorithm, usually with the goal of obtaining good generalization.[1] Hyperparameter optimization contrasts with actual learning problems, which are also often cast as optimization problems, but optimize a loss function on the training set alone. In effect, learning algorithms learn parameters that model/reconstruct their inputs well, while hyperparameter optimization is to ensure the model does not overfit its data by tuning, e.g., regularization.

Algorithms for hyperparameter optimization[edit]

Grid search[edit]

The de facto standard way of performing hyperparameter optimization is grid search, which is simply an exhaustive searching through a manually specified subset of the hyperparameter space of a learning algorithm. A grid search algorithm must be guided by some performance metric, typically measured by cross-validation on the training set[2] or evaluation on a held-out validation set.

Since the parameter space of a machine learner may include real-valued or unbounded value spaces for certain parameters, manually set bounds and discretization may be necessary before applying grid search.

For example, a typical soft-margin SVM classifier equipped with an RBF kernel has at least two hyperparameters that need to be tuned for good performance on unseen data: a regularization constant C and a kernel hyperparameter γ. Both parameters are continuous, so to perform grid search, one selects a finite set of "reasonable" values for each, say

C \in \{10, 100, 1000\}
\gamma \in \{0.1, 0.2, 0.5, 1.0\}

Grid search then trains an SVM with each pair (C, γ) in the Cartesian product of these two sets and evaluates their performance on a held-out validation set (or by internal cross-validation on the training set, in which case multiple SVMs are trained per pair). Finally, the grid search algorithm outputs the settings that achieved the highest score in the validation procedure.

Grid search suffers from the curse of dimensionality, but is often embarrassingly parallel because typically the hyperparameter settings it evaluates are independent of each other.[1]


Since grid searching is an exhaustive and therefore potentially expensive method, several alternatives have been proposed. In particular, a randomized search that simply samples parameter settings a fixed number of times has been found to be more effective in high-dimensional spaces than exhaustive search.[1]

For specific learning algorithms, specialized model selection algorithms can be used. E.g., Chapelle et al. present a gradient descent algorithm for minimizing the estimated generalization error of a support vector machine.[3]


  • LIBSVM comes with scripts for performing grid search.
  • The machine learning toolkit scikit-learn includes a grid search module.
  • Hyperopt is a distributed hyperparameter optimization library in Python.
  • Auto-WEKA is a hyperparameter optimization layer on top of WEKA
  • spearmint Spearmint is a package to perform Bayesian optimization of Machine Learning Algorithms
  • SMAC SMAC: Sequential Model-based Algorithm Configuration, tool for optimizing algorithm parameters

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bergstra, James; Bengio, Yoshua (2012). "Random Search for Hyper-Parameter Optimization". J. Machine Learning Research 13: 281–305. 
  2. ^ Chin-Wei Hsu, Chih-Chung Chang and Chih-Jen Lin (2010). A practical guide to support vector classification. Technical Report, National Taiwan University.
  3. ^ Olivier Chapelle; Vladimir Vapnik; Olivier Bousquet; Sayan Mukherjee (2002). "Choosing multiple parameters for support vector machines". Machine Learning 46: 131–159.