Tag Archives: Data Science

Analytics By Design, For The Analytics Win

We hear a lot of hype that says organizations should be “Datafirst”, or “AI-first, or “Datadriven”, or “Technologydriven”. A better prescription for business success is for our organization to be analyticsdriven and thus analytics-first, while being data-informed and technology-empowered. Analytics are the products, the outcomes, and the ROI of our Big DataData Science, AI, and Machine Learning investments!

AI strategies and data strategies should therefore focus on outcomes first. Such a focus explicitly induces the corporate messaging, strategy, and culture to be better aligned with what matters the most: business outcomes!

The analytics-first strategy can be referred to as Analytics By Design, which is derived from similar principles in education: Understanding By Design. Analytics are the outcomes of data activities (data science, machine learning, AI) within the organization. So we should keep our eye on the prize — maintaining our focus on the business outcomes (the analytics), which are data-fueled, technology-enabled, and metrics-verified. That’s the essence of Analytics by Design.

The longer complete version of this article “How Analytics by Design Tackles The Yin and Yang of Metrics and Data” is available at the Western Digital DataMakesPossible.com blog site. In that article, you can read about:

  • The two complementary roles of data — “the yin and the yang” — in which data are collected at the front end (from business activities, customer interactions, marketing reports, and more), while data are also collected at the back end as metrics to verify performance and compliance with stated goals and objectives.
  • The four principles of Analytics By Design.
  • The five take-away messages for organizations that have lots of data and that want to win with Analytics By Design.

For data scientists, the message is “Come for the data. Stay for the science!”

Read the full story here: “How Analytics by Design Tackles The Yin and Yang of Metrics and Data

Bias-Busting with Diversity in Data

Diversity in data is one of the three defining characteristics of big data — high data variety — along with high data volume and high velocity. We discussed the power and value of high-variety data in a previous article: “The Five Important D’s of Big Data Variety” We won’t repeat those lessons here, but we focus specifically on the bias-busting power of high-variety data, which was actually the last of the five D’s mentioned in the earlier article: Decreased model bias.

Here, we broaden our meaning of “bias” to go beyond model bias, which has the technical statistical meaning of “underfitting”, which essentially means that there is more information and structure in the data than our model has captured. In the current context, we apply a broader definition of bias: lacking a neutral viewpoint, or having a viewpoint that is partial. We will call this natural bias, since the examples can be considered as “naturally occurring” without obvious intent. This article does not elaborate on personal bias (which might be intentional), though the cause for that kind of prejudice is essentially the same: not considering and taking into account the full knowledge and understanding of the person or entity that is the subject of the bias.

We wrote a longer complete version of this article here: “Busting Bias with More Data Variety” at the Western Digital DataMakesPossible.com blog site.

In that full version of this article, we go on to describe several examples of natural bias and then to present a recommended bias-busting remedy for those of us working in the realm of data science. We refer to that remedy as the CCDI data & analytics strategy: Collect, Curate, Differentiate, and Innovate.

Here is one of the four examples of natural bias that you will find in the longer, complete version of the article:

  • An example of natural bias comes from a famous cartoon. The cartoon shows three or more blind men (or blindfolded men) feeling an elephant. They each feel a different aspect of the elephant: the tail, a tusk, an ear, the body, a leg — and consequently they each offer a different interpretation of what they believe this thing is (which they cannot see). They say it might be a rope (the tail), or a spear (the tusk), or a large fan (the ear), or a wall (the body), or a tree trunk (the leg). Only after the blindfolds are removed (or an explanation is given) do they finally “see” the full truth of this large complex reality. It has many different features, facets, and characteristics. Focusing on only one of those features and insisting that this partial view describes the whole thing would be foolish. We have similar complex systems in our organizations, whether it is the human body (in healthcare), or our population of customers (in marketing), or the Earth (in climate science), or different components in a complex system (like a manufacturing facility), or our students (in a classroom), or whatever. Unless we break down the silos and start sharing our data (insights) about all the dimensions, viewpoints, and perspectives of our complex system, we will consequently be drawn into biased conclusions and actions, and thus miss the key insights that enable us to understand the wonderful complexity and diversity of the thing in its entirety. Integrating the many data sources enables us to arrive at the “single correct view” of the thing: the 360 view!
Collecting high-variety data from diverse sources, connecting the dots, and building the 360 view of our domain is not only the data silo-busting thing to do. It is also the bias-busting thing to do. High-variety data makes that possible, and there is no shortage of biases for high-variety data to bust, including cognitive bias, confirmation bias, salience bias, and sampling bias, just to name a few! …
Read the full story here… “Busting Bias with More Data Variety

Meta-Learning For Better Machine Learning

In a related post we discussed the Cold Start Problem in Data Science — how do you start to build a model when you have either no training data or no clear choice of model parameters. An example of a cold start problem is k-Means Clustering, where the number of clusters k in the data set is not known in advance, and the locations of those clusters in feature space (i.e., the cluster means) are not known either. So, you start by assuming a value for k and making random assumptions about the cluster means, and then iterate until you find the optimal set of clusters, based upon some evaluation metric. See the related post for more details about the cold start challenge. See the attached graphic below for a simple demonstration of a k-Means Clustering application.

The above example (clustering) is taken from unsupervised machine learning (where there are no labels on the training data). There are also examples of cold start in supervised machine learning (where you do have class labels on the training data).

As an example of a cold start in supervised learning, we look at neural network models, where the weights on the edges that connect the various nodes in the network layers are not known initially. So, random values (e.g., all weights = 1) are assigned to all of the edge weights (which could number in the hundreds or thousands) — that’s the cold start. Following that, the weights can “learn” to get better through a technique known as backpropagation, which is applied through sequential iterations of the neural network learning process. A validation metric estimates the error in each model iteration in the sequence (i.e., the classification error on the validation or hold-out data set), then applies the backpropagation technique to assign some portion of the error to each of the edge weights. Each edge weight is adjusted accordingly using gradient descent (or some similar error correction rate estimator) for the next model in the sequence. The next iteration of the neural network modeling process is executed, applying the same steps as above, and the process continues until the validation metric converges to the optimal final model.

What is missing in the above discussion is the deeper set of unknowns in the learning process. This is the meta-learning phase. We can elucidate this phase through our two examples above.

From the first example above, k-Means Clustering:

  • What is the value of k?
  • Which features in the data set are most effective in creating distinct clusters in the data (i.e., to create the segments that are the most compact internally, and relatively the most separated from each other)? There might be dozens or hundreds or thousands of attributes to choose from, and a vast number of combinations of those attributes in which to explore clustering in different dimensions of parameter space.
  • What distance metric should be used to estimate separation (or what similarity metric should be used to estimate similarity), since clustering is a distance-based algorithm? There are some common choices for distance and similarity metrics (e.g., cosine similarity, Euclidean distance, Manhattan distance, Mahalanobis distance, Lp-Norm, etc.), but that is just the tip of a vast iceberg — just take a look at the 750-page book Encyclopedia of Distances.
  • What evaluation metric should we use to determine if the clusters are “good enough” or optimal (i.e., the most compact set of clusters relative to the separation of the clusters)? There are several choices for such evaluation metrics: Dunn index, Davies-Bouldin index, C-index, and Silhouette analysis are just a few examples.

We need to decide on all of these parameterizations of the clustering model before the cold start interations on the cluster means can begin.

From the second example above, Neural Network modeling, there are also many different preliminary tasks and parameterizations of the network that need to be decided and acted on before the cold start iterations on the edge weights can begin:

This now gets to the heart of meta-learning. It is focused on learning the right tasks to perform and on tuning the modeling hyper-parameters. These are the different tasks and “external” parameters that differentiate various instantiations of a specific model within a broader category of models — those tasks and external parameterizations must be explored before you start building, iterating, and validating a specific model’s “internal” parameters. For example:

  • You can cluster children’s toys in a toy store by color, or by shape, or by electronic vs. non-electronic, or by age-appropriateness, or by functionality, or cluster them by some combination of those features.
  • You can cluster (segment) your customers by the types of products they buy, or by their geographic location, or by their gender, or by their age, or by the day of week that they prefer to shop, or cluster them by some combination of those many different variables.
  • You can cluster medical drug treatments by the types of symptoms that they address, or by the medical diagnoses (outcomes) that they attempt to cure, or by their dosage amounts, or cluster them by the side-effects that are caused when different combinations of the drugs are used.

Deciding on the higher-level hyper-parameterizations of your clustering approach before you build the actual models is good data science and good business, no matter whether you are sorting toys, or discovering segments in your customer database, or prescribing different medications to medical patients.

Similar decisions must be made for the neural network example mentioned earlier as well as for numerous other machine learning modeling techniques. Meta-learning is important to make sure that you are aware of and attentive to the many choices of modeling tasks and parameterizations for the models that you are about to train. Meta-learning is also critical for demonstrating (proving) that you built the best (or optimal or most accurate) model, given the higher level characteristics (e.g., parameters, architecture, or input data sources) of the modeling effort:

  • What is the business case? What outcomes will be actionable?
  • What data do we have? Which combinations of data have we not explored yet?
  • What metric will demonstrate that we have achieved the globally optimal model (or approximately the global optimum), versus some locally good model that doesn’t generalize across a larger data set?

Genetic Algorithms (GAs) are an example of meta-learning. They are not machine learning algorithms in themselves, but GAs can be applied across ensembles of machine learning models and tasks, in order to find the optimal model (perhaps globally optimal model) across a collection of locally optimal solutions.

Learn more about meta-learning from these resources:

Finally, in addition to the awesome 750-page book Encyclopedia of Distances“, please check out some of these top-selling books on Data Science, AI, and Machine Learning:

Data Scientist’s Dilemma – The Cold Start Problem

The ancient philosopher Confucius has been credited with saying “study your past to know your future.” This wisdom applies not only to life but to machine learning also. Specifically, the availability and application of labeled data (things past) for the labeling of previously unseen data (things future) is fundamental to supervised machine learning.

Without labels (diagnoses, classes, known outcomes) in past data, then how do we make progress in labeling (explaining) future data? This would be a problem.

A related problem also arises in unsupervised machine learning. In these applications, there is no requirement or presumption regarding the existence of labeled training data — we are essentially parameterizing or characterizing the patterns in the data (e.g., the trends, correlations, segments, clusters, associations).

Many unsupervised learning models can converge more readily and be more valuable if we know in advance which parameterizations are best to choose. If we cannot know that (i.e., because it truly is unsupervised learning), then we would like to know at least that our final model is optimal (in some way) in explaining the data.

In both of these applications (supervised and unsupervised machine learning), if we don’t have these initial insights and validation metrics, then how does such model-building get started and get moving towards the optimal solution?

This challenge is known as the cold-start problem! The solution to the problem is easy (sort of): We make a guess — an initial guess! Usually, that would be a totally random guess.

That sounds so… so… random! How do we know whether it’s a good initial guess? How do we progress our model (parameterizations) from that random initial choice? How do we know that our progression is moving towards more accurate models? How? How? How?

This can be a real challenge. Of course nobody said the “cold start” problem would be easy. Anyone who has ever tried to start a very cold car on a frozen morning knows the pain of a cold start challenge. Nothing can be more frustrating on such a morning. But, nothing can be more exhilarating and uplifting on such a morning than that moment when the engine starts and the car begins moving forward with increasing performance.

The experiences for data scientists who face cold-start problems in machine learning can be very similar to those, especially the excitement when our models begin moving forward with increasing performance.

We will itemize several examples at the end. But before we do that, let’s address the objective function. That is the true key that unlocks performance in a cold-start challenge.  That’s the magic ingredient in most of the examples that we will list.

The objective function (also known as cost function, or benefit function) provides an objective measure of model performance. It might be as simple as the percentage of class labels that the model got right (in a classification model), or the sum of the squares of the deviations of the points from the model curve (in a regression model), or the compactness of the clusters relative to their separation (in a clustering analysis).

The value of the objective function is not only in its final value (i.e., giving us a quantitative overall model performance rating), but its great (perhaps greatest) value is realized in guiding our progression from the initial random model (cold-start zero point) to that final successful (hopefully, optimal) model. In those intermediate steps it serves as an evaluation (or validation) metric.

By measuring the evaluation metric at step zero (cold-start), then measuring it again after making adjustments to the model parameters, we learn whether our adjustments led to a better performing model or worse performance. We then know whether to continue making model parameter adjustments in the same direction or in the opposite direction. This is called gradient descent.

Gradient descent methods basically find the slope (i.e., the gradient) of the performance error curve as we progress from one model to the next. As we learned in grade school algebra class, we need two points to find the slope of a curve. Therefore, it is only after we have run and evaluated two models that we will have two performance points — the slope of the curve at the latest point then informs our next choice of model parameter adjustments: either (a) keep adjusting in the same direction as the previous step (if the performance error decreased) to continue descending the error curve; or (b) adjust in the opposite direction (if the performance error increased) to turn around and start descending the error curve.

Note that hill-climbing is the opposite of gradient descent, but essentially the same thing. Instead of minimizing error (a cost function), hill-climbing focuses on maximizing accuracy (a benefit function). Again, we measure the slope of the performance curve from two models, then proceed in the direction of better-performing models. In both cases (hill-climbing and gradient descent), we hope to reach an optimal point (maximum accuracy or minimum error), and then declare that to be the best solution. And that is amazing and satisfying when we remember that we started (as a cold-start) with an initial random guess at the solution.

When our machine learning model has many parameters (which could be thousands for a deep neural network), the calculations are more complex (perhaps involving a multi-dimensional gradient calculation, known as a tensor). But the principle is the same: quantitatively discover at each step in the model-building progression which adjustments (size and direction) are needed in each one of the model parameters in order to progress towards the optimal value of the objective function (e.g., minimize errors, maximize accuracy, maximize goodness of fit, maximize precision, minimize false positives, etc.). In deep learning, as in typical neural network models, the method by which those adjustments to the model parameters are estimated (i.e., for each of the edge weights between the network nodes) is called backpropagation. That is still based on gradient descent.

One way to think about gradient descent, backpropagation, and perhaps all machine learning is this: “Machine Learning is the set of mathematical algorithms that learn from experience. Good judgment comes experience. And experience comes from bad judgment.” In our case, the initial guess for our random cold-start model can be considered “bad judgment”, but then experience (i.e., the feedback from validation metrics such as gradient descent) bring “good judgment” (better models) into our model-building workflow.

Here are ten examples of cold-start problems in data science where the algorithms and techniques of machine learning produce the good judgment in model progression toward the optimal solution:

  • Clustering analysis (such as K-Means Clustering), where the initial cluster means and the number of clusters are not known in advance (and thus are chosen randomly initially), but the compactness of the clusters can be used to evaluate, iterate, and improve the set of clusters in a progression to the final optimum set of clusters (i.e., the most compact and best separated clusters).
  • Neural networks, where the initial weights on the network edges are assigned randomly (a cold-start), but backpropagation is used to iterate the model to the optimal network (with highest classification performance).
  • TensorFlow deep learning, which uses the same backpropagation technique of simpler neural networks, but the calculation of the weight adjustments is made across a very high-dimensional parameter space of deep network layers and edge weights using tensors.
  • Regression, which uses the sum of the squares of the deviations of the points from the model curve in order to find the best-fit curve. In linear regression, there is a closed-form solution (derivable from the linear least-squares technique). The solution for non-linear regression is not typically a closed-form set of mathematical equations, but the minimization of the sum of the squares of deviations still applies — gradient descent can be used in an iterative workflow to find the optimal curve. Note that K-Means Clustering is actually an example of piecewise regression.
  • Nonconvex optimization, where the objective function has many hills and valleys, so that gradient descent and hill-climbing will typically converge only to a local optimum, not to the global optimum. Techniques like genetic algorithms, particle swarm optimization (when the gradient cannot be calculated), and other evolutionary computing methods are used to generate lots of random (cold-start) models and then iterate each of them until you find the global optimum (or until you run out of time and resources, and then pick the best one that you could find). [See my graphic attached below that illustrates a sample use case for genetic algorithms. See also the NOTE below the graphic about Genetic Algorithms, which also applies to other evolutionary algorithms, indicating that these are not machine learning algorithms specifically, but they are actually meta-learning algorithms]
  • kNN (k-Nearest Neighbors), which is a supervised learning technique in which the data set itself becomes the model. In other words, the assignment of a new data point to a particular group (which may or may not have a class label or a particular meaning yet) is based simply upon finding which category (group) of existing data points is in the majority when you take a vote of the nearest neighbors to the new data point. The number of nearest neighbors that are to be examined is some number k, which can be initially arbitrary (a cold-start), but then it is adjusted to improve model performance.
  • Naive Bayes classification, which applies Bayes theorem to a large data set with class labels on the data items, but for which some combinations of attributes and features are not represented in the training data (i.e., a cold-start challenge). By assuming that the different attributes are mutually independent features of the data items, then one can estimate the posterior likelihood for what the class label should be for a new data item with a feature vector (set of attributes) that is not found in the training data. This is sometimes called a Bayes Belief Network (BBN) and is another example of where the data set becomes the model, where the frequency of occurrence of the different attributes individually can inform the expected frequency of occurrence of different combinations of the attributes.
  • Markov modeling (Belief Networks for Sequences) is an extension of BBN to sequences, which can include web logs, purchase patterns, gene sequences, speech samples, videos, stock prices, or any other temporal or spatial or parametric sequence.
  • Association rule mining, which searches for co-occurring associations that occur higher than expected from a random sampling of a data set. Association rule mining is yet another example where the data set becomes the model, where no prior knowledge of the associations is known (i.e., a cold-start challenge). This technique is also called Market Basket Analysis, which has been used for simple cold-start customer purchase recommendations, but it also has been used in such exotic use cases as tropical storm (hurricane) intensification prediction.
  • Social network (link) analysis, where the patterns in the network (e.g., centrality, reach, degrees of separation, density, cliques, etc.) encode knowledge about the network (e.g., most authoritative or influential nodes in the network), through the application of algorithms like PageRank, without any prior knowledge about those patterns (i.e., a cold-start).

Finally, as a bonus, we mention a special case, Recommender Engines, where the cold-start problem is a subject of ongoing research. The research challenge is to find the optimal recommendation for a new customer or for a new product that has not been seen before. Check out these articles  related to this challenge:

  1. The Cold Start Problem for Recommender Systems
  2. Tackling the Cold Start Problem in Recommender Systems
  3. Approaching the Cold Start Problem in Recommender Systems

We started this article mentioning Confucius and his wisdom. Here is another form of wisdomhttps://rapidminer.com/wisdom/ — the RapidMiner Wisdom conference. It is a wonderful conference, with many excellent tutorials, use cases, applications, and customer testimonials. I was honored to be the keynote speaker for their 2018 conference in New Orleans, where I spoke about “Clearing the Fog around Data Science and Machine Learning: The Usual Suspects in Some Unusual Places”. You can find my slide presentation here: KirkBorne-RMWisdom2018.pdf 

NOTE: Genetic Algorithms (GAs) are an example of meta-learning. They are not machine learning algorithms in themselves, but GAs can be applied across ensembles of machine learning models and tasks, in order to find the optimal model (perhaps globally optimal model) across a collection of locally optimal solutions.

Variety is the Secret Sauce for Big Discoveries in Big Data

When I was out for a walk recently, I heard a loud low-flying aircraft passing overhead. This was not unusual since we live in the flight path of planes landing at a major international airport about 10 miles from our home. In this case, I thought to myself that the sound seemed more directly overhead and lower than normal as well as being suggestive of a larger than average jet aircraft.

I realized that in my one simple thought, I had made three different inferences from a single stream of data. The data stream was the audible sound of the aircraft. The three inferences were about the altitude (lower than normal), the size (larger than average), and the flight path (more overhead). When I looked up, my tri-inference hypothesis was confirmed. The plane was a very large, low-flying jet for a major overnight shipping company. The slightly unusual flight path may have been associated with the fact that these planes are probably instructed to land on a different runway at the airport than the usual commercial passenger airlines’ flights – consequently, the altitude and location were slightly different from the slightly smaller commercial passenger airlines that pass overhead every day.

This situation caused me to reflect on how often we can jump to conclusions, infer a hypothesis, and (maybe without as much proof as in this case) we assume that our conclusion is true.

For the modern digital organization, the proof of any inference (that drives decisions) should be in the data! Rich and diverse data collections enable more accurate and trustworthy conclusions.

I frequently refer to the era of big data as “the end of demographics”. By that, I mean that we now have many more features, attributes, data sources, and insights into each entity in our domain: people, processes, and products. These multiple data sources enable a “360 view” of the entity, thus empowering a more personalized (even hyper-personalized) understanding of and response to the needs of that unique entity. In “big data language”, we are talking about one of the 3 V’s of big data: big data Variety!

High variety is one of the foundational key features of big data — we now measure many more features, characteristics, and dimensions of insight into nearly everything due to the plethora of data sources, sensors, and signals that we measure, monitor, and mine. Consequently, we no longer need to rely on a limited number of features and attributes when making decisions, taking actions, and generating inferences. We can make better, tailored, more personalized decisions and actions. Every entity is unique! That marks the end of demographics.

Here is another example: suppose that a person goes to their doctor to report problems with painful headaches. That is a single symptom (headache pain) — a single data source, a single signal, a single sensor. However, one could imagine a large number of possible inferences from that one single signal. The headaches could be caused by insufficient sleep (sleep apnea), high blood pressure, pregnancy, or a brain tumor. Obviously, each one of these diagnoses carries a seriously different course of action and treatment.

In “data science language”, what we are describing are different segments (clusters) in the hyperspace of symptoms and causes in which the many causes (clusters) are projected on top of one another (overlap one another) in the symptom space. The way that a data scientist resolves that degeneracy (another data science word) is to introduce more parameters (higher variety data) in order to “look at” those overlapping clusters from different angles and perspectives, thus resolving the different diagnosis clusters. High variety data enables the discovery of multiple clusters, and eventually identifies the correct cluster (correct diagnosis, in this case).

Higher variety data means that we are adding data from other sensors, other signals, other sources, and of different types. Going back to our low-flying airplane example, this has the following application: I not only heard the aircraft (sound = audio data), but I also looked at it (sight = visual data) and I observed its flight path (dynamic change over time = time series data). The proof of my inference about the airplane was in the data! Additional data sources provided the variety of data signals that were needed in order to derive a correct conclusion.

Similarly, when you go to the doctor with that headache, the doctor will start asking about other symptoms (e.g., lack of appetite; or other pains) and may order other medical tests (blood pressure checks, or other lab results). Those additional data sources and sensors provide the variety of data signals that are needed in order to derive the correct diagnosis.

These examples (low-flying aircraft, and headache pain) are representative analogies of a large number of different use cases in every organization, every business, and every process. The more data you have, the better you are able to detect and discover interesting and important phenomena and events. However, the more variety of data you have, the better you are able to correctly diagnose, interpret, understand, gain insights from, and take appropriate action in response to those phenomena and events.

High-variety data is the fuel that powers these insights, because variety is definitely the secret sauce for bigger and better discovery from big data collections.

Follow Kirk on Twitter at @KirkDBorne

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

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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