The assumption that a Machine Learning (ML) project is done when a trained model is put into production is quite faulty. Neverthless, according to Alexandre Gonfalonieri — artificial intelligence (AI) strategist at Philips — this assumption is among the most common mistakes of companies taking their AI products to market.
Actually, in the real world, we see pretty much the opposite of this assumption. People like Alexandre therefore strongly recommend companies keep their best data scientists and engineers on a ML project, especially after it reaches production!
If you’ve ever productionized a model and really started using it, you know that, over time, your model will start performing worse.
In order to maintain the original accuracy of a ML model which is interacting with real world customers or processes, you will need to continuously monitor and/or tweak it!
In the best case, algorithms are retrained with each new data delivery. This offers a maintenance burden that is not fully automatable. According to Alexandre, tending to machine learning models demands the close scrutiny, critical thinking, and manual effort that only highly trained data scientists can provide.
This means that there’s a higher marginal cost to operating ML products compared to traditional software. Whereas the whole reason we are implementing these products is often to decrease (the) costs (of human labor)!
What causes this?
Your models’ accuracy will often be at its best when it just leaves the training grounds.
Building a model on relevant and available data and coming up with accurate predictions is a great start. However, for how long do you expect those data — that age by the day — continue to provide accurate predictions?
Chances are that each day, the model’s latent performance will go down.
This phenomenon is called concept drift, and is heavily studied in academia but less often considered in business settings. Concept drift means that the statistical properties of the target variable, which the model is trying to predict, change over time in unforeseen ways.
In simpler terms, your model is no longer modelling the outcome that it used to model. This causes problems because the predictions become less accurate as time passes.
Particularly, models of human behavior seem to suffer from this pitfall.
The key is that, unlike a simple calculator, your ML model interacts with the real world. And the data it generates and that reaches it is going to change over time. A key part of any ML project should be predicting how your data is going to change over time.
You need to create a monitoring strategy before reaching production!
According to Alexandre, as soon as you feel confident with your project after the proof-of-concept stage, you should start planning a strategy for keeping your models up to date.
How often will you check in?
On the whole model, or just some features?
In general, sensible model surveillance combined with a well thought out schedule of model checks is crucial to keeping a production model accurate. Prioritizing checks on the key variables and setting up warnings for when a change has taken place will ensure that you are never caught by a surprise by a change to the environment that robs your model of its efficacy.
Your strategy will strongly differ based on your model and your business context.
Moreover, there are many different types of concept drift that can affect your models, so it should be a key element to think of the right strategy for you specific case!
Let’s solve it!
Once you observe degraded model performance, you will need to redesign your model (pipeline).
One solution is referred to as manual learning. Here, we provide the newly gathered datato our model and re-train and re-deploy it just like the first time we build the model. If you think this sounds time-consuming, you are right. Moreover, the tricky part is not refreshing and retraining a model, but rather thinking of new features that might deal with the concept drift.
A second solution could be to weight your data. Some algorithms allow for this very easily. For others you will need to custom build it in yourself. One recommended weighting schema is to use the inversely proportional age of the data. This way, more attention will be paid to the most recent data (higher weight) and less attention to the oldest of data (smaller weight) in your training set. In this sense, if there is drift, your model will pick it up and correct accordingly.
According to Alexandre and many others, the third and best solution is to build your productionized system in such a way that you continuously evaluate and retrain your models. The benefit of such a continuous learning system is that it can be automated to a large extent, thus reducing (the human labor) maintance costs.
Although Alexandre doesn’t expand on how to do these, he does formulate the three steps below:
In my personal experience, if you have your model retrained (automatically) every now and then, using a smart weighting schema, and keep monitoring the changes in the parameters and for several “unit-test” cases, you will come a long way.
If you’re feeling more adventureous, you could improve on matters by having your model perform some exploration (at random or rule-wise) of potential new relationships in your data (see for instance multi-armed bandits). This will definitely take you a long way!
The following are my summary and take-aways from Janelle Shane’s 2019 book named You look like a thing and I love you. Most of the below are excerpts from Janelle’s book, combined, or rewritten by me. For the sake of copyright, just consider everything Janelle’s : )
You look like a thing and I love you is about AI. More specifically, the book is about what AI can and can not do. And how and why AI often fails in miserably hilareous ways.
Janelle has spend her time foing fun experiments with AI. In this book, she shares those experiments along with many real life examples of AIs in practice. While explaining the technical details behind these AIs in an accesible though technically correct way, she informs the reader where, how, and why AIs fail.
Janelle took AIs out of their comfort zone and it produced some hilareously weird results. She proposes five principles of AI Weirdness:
The danger of AI is not that it’s too smart, but that it’s not smart enough
AI has the approximate brainpower of a worm
AI does not really understand the problem you want it to solve
But: AI will do exactly what you tell it to. Or at least it will try its best.
And AI willt ake the path of the least resistance
Definitions: What is (not) AI?
If it seems like AI is everywhere, it’s partly because Artificial Intelligence means lots of things, depending on whether you’re reading science fiction or selling a new app or doing academic research.
To spot an AI in the wild, it’s important to know the difference between machine learning algorithms (what Janelle calls AI in her book) and traditional, rules-based programs.
To solve a problem with a rules-based program, you have to know every step required to complete the program’s task and how to describe each one of those steps. But a machine learning algorithm figures out the rules for itself via trail and error, gauging its success on goals the programmer has specified. As the AI tries to reach this goal, it can discover rules and correlations that the programmer didn’t even know existed. This is what makes AIs attractive problem solvers and is particularly handy if the rules are really complicated or just plain mysterious.
Sometimes an AI’s brilliant problem-solving rules actually rely on mistaken assumptions. Rules that served it well in training but fail miserably when it encountered the real world. While training errors are common in complex AIs, the consequences of these mistakes can be serious.
It’s often not easy to tell when AIs make mistakes. Since we don’t write the rules, they come up with their own, and they don’t write them down or explain them the way a human would.
The difference between succesful AI problem solving and failure usually has a lot to do with the suitability of the task for an AI solution. And there are plenty of tasks for which AI solutions are more efficient than human solutions. But there are also plenty of cases where things go miserably wrong.
Janelle proposes four signs of “AI Doom”, contexts where machine learning will not produce the desired results:
The problem is too hard, broad, or complex
The problem is not what we thought it was
There are sneaky shortcuts to solving the problem
The AI tried to solve the problem learning from flawed data
Programming an AI is almost more like teaching a child than programming a computer.
Explaining how AI works
In her book, Janelle takes us through many example problems which she or others tried to solve using AIs. These example problems are increasingly hilareous, but I assure you that they are technically and didactically sound:
Managing a cockroach farm
Riding a bicycle
Rating sandwich deliciousness
Tossing a sandwich into a wall
Guiding people through a hallway
Answering questions regarding photo’s
The amazing thing is these ridiculous example problems actually serve a purpose. They are used to explain different algorithms and their applications, strengths, and limitations! Janelle covers a wide variety of algorithms in such a way that anyone new to machine learning would understand, while people with some experience will still be amused.
Janelle talks about artificial neural networks, random forests, and markov chains. Moreover, she explains how activation functions, recurrancy and long short-term memory, evolutionary algorithms and gradient descent work. And all in understandable though technically correct language.
Janelle herself seems particularly fond of generative algorithms. She’s elaborates on having deployed recurrent neural nets, generative adversial networks, and markov chains for a wide variety of generative tasks. In the book, Jabekke explains what went well and went wrong when coming up with new and original…
Janelle’s book is lingered with examples of failing AI. As a matter of fact, the whole book seems like an ode to how machine learning can and will inevitably fail. Particularly in the latter chapters, Janelle covers many limitations of and issues with AI in much detail:
I have yet to come across a book that explain AI in this much detail and in a manner as accessible and entertaining as Janelle Shane does in You look like a thing and I love you. Janelle makes machine learning and AI understandable for a wide public without passing on the deeper technical details. Taking a critical stance, she provides a good overview of the strenghts and weaknesses of AI, and a realistic outlook for the future to come. This book is not looking for sensation or hype, although reading it will be a most amusing experience for the more technical as well as the lay reader.
I highly recommend you reward yourself with a copy!
Now, as a gift to the European Union, Finland has opened up the course for the rest of Europe and the world to enjoy.
The course is even being translated into several local languages. At the time of writing, five Northern European languages are already supported, but additional translation efforts are still in progress.
Elements of AI takes six weeks and functions as a crash course and beginner introduction to the field of AI:
PyData is famous for it’s great talks on machine learning topics. This 2019 London edition, Vincent Warmerdamagain managed to give a super inspiring presentation. This year he covers what he dubs Artificial Stupidity™. You should definitely watch the talk, which includes some great visual aids, but here are my main takeaways:
Vincent speaks of Artificial Stupidity, of machine learning gone HorriblyWrong™ — an example of which below — for which Vincent elaborates on three potential fixes:
1. Predict Less, but Carefully
Vincent argues you shouldn’t extrapolate your predictions outside of your observed sampling space. Even better: “Not predicting given uncertainty is a great idea.” As an alternative, we could for instance design a fallback mechanism, by including an outlier detection model as the first step of your machine learning model pipeline and only predict for non-outliers.
Be careful! One thing we should maybe start talking about to our bosses: Algorithms merely automate, approximate, and interpolate. It’s the extrapolation that is actually kind of dangerous.
Vincent Warmerdam @ Pydata 2019 London
Basically, we can choose to not make automated decisions sometimes.
2. Constrain thy Features
What we feed to our models really matters. […] You should probably do something to the data going into your model if you want your model to have any sort of fairness garantuees.
Vincent Warmerdam @ Pydata 2019 London
Often, simply removing biased features from your data does not reduce bias to the extent we may have hoped. Fortunately, Vincent demonstrates how to remove biased information from your variables by applying some cool math tricks.
Unfortunately, doing so will often result in a lesser predictive accuracy. Unsurprisingly though, as you are not closely fitting the biased data any more. What makes matters more problematic, Vincent rightfully mentions, is that corporate incentives often not really align here. It might feel that you need to pick: it’s either more accuracy or it’s more fairness.
However, there’s a nice solution that builds on point 1. We can now take the highly accurate model and the highly fair model, make predictions with both, and when these predictions differ, that’s a very good proxy where you potentially don’t want to make a prediction. Hence, there may be observations/samples where we are comfortable in making a fair prediction, whereas in most other situations we may say “right, this prediction seems unfair, we need a fallback mechanism, a human being should look at this and we should not automate this decision”.
Vincent does not that this is only one trick to constrain your model for fairness, and that fairness may often only be fair in the eyes of the beholder. Moreover, in order to correct for these biases and unfairness, you need to know about these unfair biases. Although outside of the scope of this specific topic, Vincent proposes this introduces new ethical issues:
Basically, we can choose to put our models on a controlled diet.
3. Constrain thy Model
Vincent argues that we should include constraints (based on domain knowledge, or common sense) into our models. In his presentation, he names a few. For instance, monotonicity, which implies that the relationship between X and Y should always be either entirely non-increasing, or entirely non-decreasing. Incorporating the previously discussed fairness principles would be a second example, and there are many more.
If we every come up with a model where more smoking leads to better health, that’s bad. I have enough domain knowledge to say that that should never happen. So maybe I should just make a system where I can say “look this one column with relationship to Y should always be strictly negative”.
Vincent Warmerdam @ Pydata 2019 London
Basically, we can integrate domain knowledge or preferences into our models.
Survival of the Best Fit is a webgame that simulates what happens when companies automate their recruitment and selection processes.
You – playing as the CEO of a starting tech company – are asked to select your favorite candidates from a line-up, based on their resumés.
As your simulated company grows, the time pressure increases, and you are forced to automate the selection process.
Fortunately, some smart techies working for your company propose training a computer to hire just like you just did.
They don’t need anything but the data you just generated and some good old supervised machine learning!
To avoid spoilers, try the game yourself and see what happens!
The game only takes a few minutes, and is best played on mobile.
Survival of the Best Fit was built by Gabor Csapo, Jihyun Kim, Miha Klasinc, and Alia ElKattan. They are software engineers, designers and technologists, advocating for better software that allows members of the public to question its impact on society.
You don’t need to be an engineer to question how technology is affecting our lives. The goal is not for everyone to be a data scientist or machine learning engineer, though the field can certainly use more diversity, but to have enough awareness to join the conversation and ask important questions.
With Survival of the Best Fit, we want to reach an audience that may not be the makers of the very technology that impact them everyday. We want to help them better understand how AI works and how it may affect them, so that they can better demand transparency and accountability in systems that make more and more decisions for us.
I found that the game provides a great intuitive explanation of how (humas) bias can slip into A.I. or machine learning applications in recruitment, selection, or other human resource management practices and processes.
Note, as Joachin replied below, that the game apparently does not learn from user-input, but is programmed to always result in bias towards blues. I kind of hoped that there was actually an algorithm “learning” in the backend, and while the developers could argue that the bias arises from the added external training data (you picked either Google, Apple, or Amazon to learn from), it feels like a bit of a disappointment that there is no real interactivity here.