Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Elke A. Rundensteiner, Advisor

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Randy C. Paffenroth, Reader


Xiangnan Kong




Early time series classification is the task of predicting the class label of a time series before it is observed in its entirety. In time-sensitive domains where information is collected over time it is worth sacrificing some classification accuracy in favor of earlier predictions, ideally early enough for actions to be taken. However, since accuracy and earliness are contradictory objectives, a solution to this problem must find a task-dependent trade-off. There are two common state-of-the-art methods. The first involves an analyst selecting a timestep at which all predictions must be made. This does not capture earliness on a case-by-case basis, so if the selecting timestep is too early, all later signals are missed, and if a signal happens early, the classifier still waits to generate a prediction. The second method is the exhaustive search for signals, which encodes no timing information and is not scalable to high dimensions or long time series. We design the first early classification model called EARLIEST to tackle this multi-objective optimization problem, jointly learning (1) to decide at which time step to halt and generate predictions and (2) how to classify the time series. Each of these is learned based on the task and data features. We achieve an analyst-controlled balance between the goals of earliness and accuracy by pairing a recurrent neural network that learns to classify time series as a supervised learning task with a stochastic controller network that learns a halting-policy as a reinforcement learning task. The halting-policy dictates sequential decisions, one per timestep, of whether or not to halt the recurrent neural network and classify the time series early. This pairing of networks optimizes a global objective function that incorporates both earliness and accuracy. We validate our method via critical clinical prediction tasks in the MIMIC III database from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center along with another publicly available time series classification dataset. We show that EARLIEST out-performs two state-of-the-art LSTM-based early classification methods. Additionally, we dig deeper into our model's performance using a synthetic dataset which shows that EARLIEST learns to halt when it observes signals without having explicit access to signal locations. The contributions of this work are three-fold. First, our method is the first neural network-based solution to early classification of time series, bringing the recent successes of deep learning to this problem. Second, we present the first reinforcement-learning based solution to the unsupervised nature of early classification, learning the underlying distributions of signals without access to this information through trial and error. Third, we propose the first joint-optimization of earliness and accuracy, allowing learning of complex relationships between these contradictory goals.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Data Science

Project Type


Date Accepted





time series classification neural networks machine learning