Tag Archives: Data Science

Discovering and understanding patterns in highly dimensional data

Dimensionality reduction is a critical component of any solution dealing with massive data collections. Being able to sift through a mountain of data efficiently in order to find the key descriptive, predictive, and explanatory features of the collection is a fundamental required capability for coping with the Big Data avalanche. Identifying the most interesting dimensions of data is especially valuable when visualizing high-dimensional (high-variety) big data.

There is a “good news, bad news” angle here. First, the bad news: the human capacity for seeing multiple dimensions is very limited: 3 or 4 dimensions are manageable; 5 or 6 dimensions are possible; but more dimensions are difficult-to-impossible to assimilate. Now for the good news: the human cognitive ability to detect patterns, anomalies, changes, or other “features” in a large complex “scene” surpasses most computer algorithms for speed and effectiveness. In this case, a “scene” refers to any small-n projection of a larger-N parameter space of variables.

In data visualization, a systematic ordered parameter sweep through an ensemble of small-n projections (scenes) is often referred to as a “grand tour”, which allows a human viewer of the visualization sequence to see quickly any patterns or trends or anomalies in the large-N parameter space. Even such “grand tours” can miss salient (explanatory) features of the data, especially when the ratio N/n is large.

Consequently, a data analytics approach that combines the best of both worlds (machine algorithms and human perception) will enable efficient and effective exploration of large high-dimensional data. One such approach is to apply Computer Vision algorithms, which are designed to emulate human perception and cognitive abilities. Another approach is to generate “interestingness metrics” that signal to the data end-user the most interesting and informative features (or combinations of features) in high-dimensional data. A specific example of the latter is latent (hidden) variable discovery.

Latent variables are not explicitly observed but are inferred from the observed features, specifically because they are the variables that deliver the all-important (but sometimes hidden) descriptive, predictive, and explanatory power of the data set. Latent variables can also be concepts that are implicitly represented by the data (e.g., the “sentiment” of the author of a social media posting).  

Because some latent variables are “observable” in the sense that they can be generated through a “yet to be discovered” mathematical combination of several of the measured variables, these are therefore an obvious example of dimension reduction for visual exploration of large high-dimensional data.

Latent (Hidden) Variable Models are used in statistics to infer variables that are not observed but are inferred from the variables that are observed. Latent variables are widely used in social science, psychology, economics, life sciences and machine learning. In machine learning, many problems involve collection of high-dimensional multivariate observations and then hypothesizing a model that explains them. In such models, the role of the latent variables is to represent properties that have not been directly observed.

After inferring the existence of latent variables, the next challenge is to understand them. This can be achieved by exploring their relationship with the observed variables (e.g., using Bayesian methods) . Several correlation measures and dimensionality reduction methods such as PCA can be used to measure those relationships. Since we don’t know in advance what relationships exist between the latent variables and the observed variables, more generalized nonparametric measures like the Maximal Information Coefficient (MIC) can be used.

MIC has become popular recently, to some extent because it provides a straightforward R-squared type of estimate to measure dependency among variables in a high-dimensional data set.  Since we don’t know in advance what a latent variable actually represents, it is not possible to predict the type of relationship that it might possess with the observed variables. Consequently, a nonparametric approach makes sense in the case of large high-dimensional data, for which the interrelationships among the many variables is a mystery. Exploring variables that possess the largest values of MIC can help us to understand the type of relationships that the latent variables have with the existing variables, thereby achieving both dimension reduction and a parameter space in which to conduct visual exploration of high-dimensional data.

The techniques described here can help data end-users to discover and understand data patterns that may lead to interesting insights within their massive data collections.

Follow Kirk Borne on Twitter @KirkDBorne

Why Today’s Big Data is Not Yesterday’s Big Data — Exponential and Combinatorial Growth

(The following article was first published in July of 2013 at analyticbridge.com. At least 3 of the links in the original article are now obsolete and/or broken. I re-post the article here with the correct links. A lot of things in the Big Data, Data Science, and IoT universe have changed dramatically since that first publication, but I did not edit the article accordingly, in order to preserve the original flavor and context. The central message is still worth repeating today.)

The on-going Big Data media hype stirs up a lot of passionate voices. There are naysayers (“it is nothing new“), doomsayers (“it will disrupt everything”), and soothsayers (e.g., Predictive Analytics experts). The naysayers are most bothersome, in my humble opinion. (Note: I am not talking about skeptics, whom we definitely and desperately need during any period of maximized hype!)

We frequently encounter statements of the “naysayer” variety that tell us that even the ancient Romans had big data.  Okay, I understand that such statements logically follow from one of the standard definitions of big data: data sets that are larger, more complex, and generated more rapidly than your current resources (computational, data management, analytic, and/or human) can handle — whose characteristics correspond to the 3 V’s of Big Data.  This definition of Big Data could be used to describe my first discoveries in a dictionary or my first encounters with an encyclopedia.  But those “data sets” are hardly “Big Data” — they are universally accessible, easily searchable, and completely “manageable” by their handlers. Therefore, they are SMALL DATA, and thus it is a myth to label them as “Big Data”. By contrast, we cannot ignore the overwhelming fact that in today’s real Big Data tsunami, each one of us generates insurmountable collections of data on our own. In addition, the correlations, associations, and links between each person’s digital footprint and all other persons’ digital footprints correspond to an exponential (actually, combinatorial) explosion in additional data products.

Nevertheless, despite all of these clear signs that today’s big data environment is something radically new, that doesn’t stop the naysayers.  With the above standard definition of big data in their quiver, the naysayers are fond of shooting arrows through all of the discussions that would otherwise suggest that big data are changing society, business, science, media, government, retail, medicine, cyber-anything, etc. I believe that this naysayer type of conversation is unproductive, unhelpful, and unscientific. The volume, complexity, and speed of data today are vastly different from anything that we have ever previously experienced, and those facts will be even more emphatic next year, and even more so the following year, and so on.  In every sector of life, business, and government, the data sets are becoming increasingly off-scale and exponentially unmanageable. The 2011 McKinsey report Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity.” made this abundantly clear.  When the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine applications really become established, then the big data V’s of today will seem like child’s play.

In an attempt to illustrate the enormity of scale of today’s (and tomorrow’s) big data, I have discussed the exponential explosion of data in my TedX talk Big Data, small world (e.g., you can fast-forward to my comments on this topic starting approximately at the 9:00 minute mark in the video). You can also read more about this topic in the article Big Data Growth – Compound Interest on Steroids“, where I have elaborated on the compound growth rate of big data — the numbers will blow your mind, and they should blow away the naysayers’ arguments.  Read all about it at http://rocketdatascience.org/?p=204.

Follow Kirk Borne on Twitter @KirkDBorne


The Definitive Q&A Guide for Aspiring Data Scientists

I was asked five questions by Alex Woodie of Datanami for his article, “So You Want To Be A Data Scientist”. He used a few snippets from my full set of answers. The longer version of my answers provided additional advice. For aspiring data scientists of all ages, I provide in my article at MapR the full, unabridged version of my answers, which may help you even more to achieve your goal.  Here are Alex’s questions. (Note: I paraphrase the original questions in quotes below.)

1. “What is the number one piece of advice you give to aspiring data scientists?”

2. “What are the most important skills for an aspiring data scientist to acquire?”

3. “Is it better for a person to stay in school and enroll in a graduate program, or is it better to acquire the skills on-the-job?”

4. “For someone who stays in school, do you recommend that they enroll in a program tailored toward data science, or would they get the requisite skills in a ‘hard science’ program such as astrophysics (like you)?”

5. “Do you see advances in analytic packages replacing the need for some of the skills that data scientists have traditionally had, such as programming skills (Python, Java, etc.)?”

Find all of my answers at “The Definitive Q&A for Aspiring Data Scientists“.

Follow Kirk Borne on Twitter @KirkDBorne

Definitive Guides to Data Science and Analytics Things

The Definitive Guide to anything should be a helpful, informative road map to that topic, including visualizations, lessons learned, best practices, application areas, success stories, suggested reading, and more.  I don’t know if all such “definitive guides” can meet all of those qualifications, but here are some that do a good job:

  1. The Field Guide to Data Science (big data analytics by Booz Allen Hamilton)
  2. The Data Science Capability Handbook (big data analytics by Booz Allen Hamilton)
  3. The Definitive Guide to Becoming a Data Scientist (big data analytics)
  4. The Definitive Guide to Data Science – The Data Science Handbook (analytics)
  5. The Definitive Guide to doing Data Science for Social Good (big data analytics, data4good)
  6. The Definitive Q&A Guide for Aspiring Data Scientists (big data analytics, data science)
  7. The Definitive Guide to Data Literacy for all (analytics, data science)
  8. The Data Analytics Handbook Series (big data, data science, data literacy by Leada)
  9. The Big Analytics Book (big data, data science)
  10. The Definitive Guide to Big Data (analytics, data science)
  11. The Definitive Guide to the Data Lake (big data analytics by MapR)
  12. The Definitive Guide to Business Intelligence (big data, business analytics)
  13. The Definitive Guide to Natural Language Processing (text analytics, data science)
  14. A Gentle Guide to Machine Learning (analytics, data science)
  15. Building Machine Learning Systems with Python (a non-definitive guide) (data analytics)
  16. The Definitive Guide to Data Journalism (journalism analytics, data storytelling)
  17. The Definitive “Getting Started with Apache Spark” ebook (big data analytics by MapR)
  18. The Definitive Guide to Getting Started with Apache Spark (big data analytics, data science)
  19. The Definitive Guide to Hadoop (big data analytics)
  20. The Definitive Guide to the Internet of Things for Business (IoT, big data analytics)
  21. The Definitive Guide to Retail Analytics (customer analytics, digital marketing)
  22. The Definitive Guide to Personalization Maturity in Digital Marketing Analytics (by SYNTASA)
  23. The Definitive Guide to Nonprofit Analytics (business intelligence, data mining, big data)
  24. The Definitive Guide to Marketing Metrics & Analytics
  25. The Definitive Guide to Campaign Tagging in Google Analytics (marketing, SEO)
  26. The Definitive Guide to Channels in Google Analytics (SEO)
  27. A Definitive Roadmap to the Future of Analytics (marketing, machine learning)
  28. The Definitive Guide to Data-Driven Attribution (digital marketing, customer analytics)
  29. The Definitive Guide to Content Curation (content-based marketing, SEO analytics)
  30. The Definitive Guide to Collecting and Storing Social Profile Data (social big data analytics)
  31. The Definitive Guide to Data-Driven API Testing (analytics automation, analytics-as-a-service)
  32. The Definitive Guide to the World’s Biggest Data Breaches (visual analytics, privacy analytics)

Follow Kirk Borne on Twitter @KirkDBorne


Reach Analytics Maturity through Fast Automatic Modeling

The late great baseball legend Yogi Berra was credited with saying this gem: “The future ain’t what it used to be.” In the context of big data analytics, I am now inclined to believe that Yogi was very insightful — his statement is an excellent description of Prescriptive Analytics.

Prescriptive Analytics goes beyond Descriptive and Predictive Analytics in the maturity framework of analytics. “Descriptive” analytics delivers hindsight (telling you what did happen, by generating reports from your databases), and “predictive” delivers foresight (telling you what will happen, through machine learning algorithms). Going one better, “prescriptive” delivers insight: discovering so much about your application domain (from your collection of big data and information resources, through data science and predictive models) that you are now able to take the actions (e.g., set the conditions and parameters) needed to achieve a prescribed (better, optimal, desired) outcome.

So, if predictive analytics can use historical training data sets to tell us what will happen in the future (e.g., which products a customer will buy; where and when your supply chain will need replenishing; which vehicles in your corporate fleet will need repairs; which machines in your manufacturing plant will need maintenance; or which servers in your data center will fail), then prescriptive analytics can alter that future (i.e., the future ain’t what it used to be).

When dealing with large high-variety data sets, with many features and measured attributes, it is often difficult to build accurate models that are generally useful under a variety of conditions and that capture all of the complexities of the response functions and explanatory variables within your business application. In such cases, fast automatic modeling tools are needed. These tools can help to identify the minimum viable feature set for accurate predictive and prescriptive modeling. For this purpose, I recommend that you check out the analytics solutions from the fast automatic modeling folks at http://soft10ware.com/.

The Soft10 software package is trained to observe quickly and report automatically the most significant, informative and explanatory dependencies in your data. Those capabilities are the “secret sauce” in insightful prescriptive analytics, and they coincide nicely with another insightful quote from Yogi Berra: “You can observe a lot by just watching.”

(Read the full blog at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/prescriptive-analytics-future-aint-what-used-kirk-borne)

Predictive versus Prescriptive Analytics

Predictive Analytics (given X, find Y) vs. Prescriptive Analytics (given Y, find X)

Follow Kirk Borne on Twitter @KirkDBorne

Fraud Analytics: Fast Automatic Modeling for Customer Loyalty Programs

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the deep and dark connection between big money and big fraud. One need only look at black markets for drugs and other controlled and/or precious commodities. But what about cases where the commodity is soft, intangible, and practically virtual? I am talking about loyalty and rewards programs.

A study by Colloquy (in 2011) estimated that the loyalty and rewards programs in the U.S. alone had an estimated outstanding value of $48 billion US dollars. This is “outstanding” value because it doesn’t carry tangible benefit until the rewards or loyalty points are cashed in, redeemed, or otherwise exchanged for something that you can “take to the bank”. In anybody’s book, $48 billion is really big value — i.e., big money rewards for loyal customers, and a big target for criminals seeking to defraud the rightful beneficiaries of these rewards.

The risk vs. reward equation in loyalty programs now has huge numbers on both sides of that equation. There’s great value for customers. There’s great return on investment for businesses seeking loyal customers. And that’s great bait to lure criminals into the game.

In the modern digital marketplace, it is now possible to manipulate payment systems on a larger scale, thereby defrauding the business of thousands of dollars in rewards points. The scale of the fraud could match the scale of the entire loyalty program for some firms, which would therefore bankrupt their supply of rewards for their loyal and faithful customers. This is a really big problem waiting to happen unless something is done about it.

The something that can be done about it is to take advantage of the fast predictive modeling capabilities for fraud detection that are enabled by access to more data (big data), better technology (analytics tools), and more insightful predictive and prescriptive algorithms (data science).

Fraud analytics is no silver bullet. It won’t rid the world of fraudsters and other criminals. But at least fast automatic modeling will give firms better defenses, more timely alerts, and faster response capabilities. This is essential because, in the digital era, it is not only business that is moving at the speed of light, but so also are the business disruptors.

Some simple use cases for fraud analytics within the context of customer loyalty reward programs can be found in the article “Where There’s Big Money, There’s Big Fraud (Analytics)“.

Payment fraud reaches across a vast array of industries: insurance (of all kinds), underwriting, social programs, purchasing and procurement, and now loyalty and rewards programs. Be prepared. Check out the analytics solutions from the fast automatic modeling folks at http://soft10ware.com/.

Follow Kirk Borne on Twitter @KirkDBorne


Blogging My Way Through Data Science, Big Data, and Analytics

I frequently write blog posts on other sites.  You can find those articles here (updated March 21, 2016):

I also write “one-off” blog posts, such as these examples:

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What Motivates a Data Scientist?

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Manu Jeevan for his Big Data Made Simple blog.  He asked me several questions:

  • How did you get into data science?
  • What exactly is enterprise data science?
  • How does Booz Allen Hamilton use data science?
  • What skills should business executives have to effectively to communicate with data scientists?
  • How is big data changing the world? (Please give us interesting examples)
  • What are your go-to tools for doing data science?
  • In your TedX talk Big Data, Small World you gave special attention to association discovery, is there a specific reason for that?
  • The Data Scientist has been called the sexiest job of the 21st century. Do you agree?
  • What advice would you give to people aspiring for a long career in data science?

All of these questions were ultimately aimed at understanding the key underlying question: “What motivates you to work in data science?” The question about enterprise data science really comes the closest to identifying what really motivates me — that is, I am exceedingly fortunate every day to be given the opportunity to work with a fantastic team of data scientists at Booz Allen Hamilton, with the mandate to explore data as a corporate asset and to exploit data science as a core capability in order to achieve more profound discoveries, to make better (data-driven) decisions, and to propel new innovations across numerous domains, industries, agencies, and organizations. My Data Science Declaration also sums up these motivating factors for me.

You can see the full scope of my answers to the above questions here: http://bigdata-madesimple.com/interview-with-leading-data-science-expert-kirk-borne/.

Follow Kirk Borne on Twitter @KirkDBorne

Just-in-Time Supply Chain Management with Data Analytics

A common phrase in SCM (Supply Chain Management) is Just-In-Time (JIT) inventory. JIT refers to a management strategy in which raw materials, products, or services are delivered to the right place, at the right time, as demand requires. This has always been an excellent business goal, but the power to excel at JIT inventory management is now improving dramatically with the increased use of data analytics across the supply chain.

In the article “Operational Analytics and Droning About Big Data“, we discussed two examples of JIT: (1) a just-in-time supply replenishment system for human bases on the Moon, and (2) the proposal by Amazon to use drones to deliver products to your front door “just in time”! The Internet of Things will almost certainly generate similar use cases and benefits.

Descriptive analytics (hindsight) tells you what has already happened in your supply chain. If there was a deficiency or problem somewhere, then you can react to that event. But, that is “old school” supply chain management. Modern analytics is predictive (foresight), allowing you to predict where the need will occur (in advance) so that you can proactively deliver products and services at the point of need, just in time.

The next advance in analytics is prescriptive (insight), which uses optimization techniques (from operations research) in combination with insights and knowledge of your business (systems, processes, and resources) in order to optimize your delivery systems, for the best possible outcome (greater sales, fewer losses, reduced inventory, etc.). Just-in-time supply chain management then becomes something more than a reality — it now becomes an enabler of increased efficiency and productivity.

Many more examples of use cases in the manufacturing and retail industries (and elsewhere) where just-in-time analytics is important (and what you can do about it) have been enumerated by the fast Automatic Modeling folks from Soft10, Inc. Check out their fast predictive analytics products at http://soft10ware.com/.

(Read more about these ideas at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/supply-chain-data-analytics-jit-legit-kirk-borne)

Follow Kirk Borne on Twitter @KirkDBorne


Definitive Guide to Data Literacy For All – A Reading List

One of the most important roles that we should be embracing right now is training the next-generation workforce in the art and science of data. Data Literacy is a fundamental literacy that should be imparted at the earliest levels of learning, and it should continue through all years of education. Education research has shown the value of using data in the classroom to teach any subject — so, I am not advocating the teaching of hard-core data science to children, but I definitely promote the use of data mining and data science applications in the teaching of other subjects (perhaps, in all subjects!). See my “Using Data in the Classroom Reading List” here on this subject.

I encourage you to read a position paper that I wrote (along with a few astronomy colleagues) for the US National Academies of Science in 2009 that addressed the data science literacy requirements in astronomy. Though focused on the needs in astronomy workforce development for the coming decade, the paper also contains more general discussion of “data literacy for the masses” that is applicable to any and all disciplines, domains, and organizations: “Data Science For The Masses.”

Two new “…For Dummies” books can help in those situations, to bring data literacy to a much larger audience (of students, business leaders, government agencies, educators, etc.). Those new books are: “Data Science For Dummies” by Lillian Pierson, and “Data Mining for Dummies” by Meta Brown.  And here is one more that I believe is an excellent data literacy companion: The Data Journalism Handbook.

Update (April 2016) – The following site has a wealth of information on the use of “Data in Education”: http://www.ands.org.au/working-with-data/publishing-and-reusing-data/data-in-education

Data Mining For Dummies Data Journalism Handbook Data Science For Dummies

(Read more here: http://www.datasciencecentral.com/profiles/blogs/dummies-for-data-science-a-reading-list)

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