Single-model uncertainty quantification in neural network potentials does not consistently outperform model ensembles

AR Tan and S Urata and S Goldman and JCB Dietschreit and R Gómez- Bombarelli, NPJ COMPUTATIONAL MATERIALS, 9, 225 (2023).

DOI: 10.1038/s41524-023-01180-8

Neural networks (NNs) often assign high confidence to their predictions, even for points far out of distribution, making uncertainty quantification (UQ) a challenge. When they are employed to model interatomic potentials in materials systems, this problem leads to unphysical structures that disrupt simulations, or to biased statistics and dynamics that do not reflect the true physics. Differentiable UQ techniques can find new informative data and drive active learning loops for robust potentials. However, a variety of UQ techniques, including newly developed ones, exist for atomistic simulations and there are no clear guidelines for which are most effective or suitable for a given case. In this work, we examine multiple UQ schemes for improving the robustness of NN interatomic potentials (NNIPs) through active learning. In particular, we compare incumbent ensemble-based methods against strategies that use single, deterministic NNs: mean-variance estimation (MVE), deep evidential regression, and Gaussian mixture models (GMM). We explore three datasets ranging from in-domain interpolative learning to more extrapolative out-of-domain generalization challenges: rMD17, ammonia inversion, and bulk silica glass. Performance is measured across multiple metrics relating model error to uncertainty. Our experiments show that none of the methods consistently outperformed each other across the various metrics. Ensembling remained better at generalization and for NNIP robustness; MVE only proved effective for in-domain interpolation, while GMM was better out-of-domain; and evidential regression, despite its promise, was not the preferable alternative in any of the cases. More broadly, cost-effective, single deterministic models cannot yet consistently match or outperform ensembling for uncertainty quantification in NNIPs.

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