Machine Learning – Understanding the Basics

August 18, 2023

Machine learning (ML) uses algorithms to build a mathematical model based on sample data. This helps identify patterns and trends within data that businesses can use to improve decision making, optimize efficiency and capture actionable information at scale.

The first step in building a machine learning model is to set an objective. This determines what data to collect and how to represent it.

1. Data

Machine learning is a technology that lets computers learn to program themselves through experience. It allows machines to perform tasks that used to be difficult or impossible for a human, such as responding to customer service calls, reading text messages, detecting images in a photo or identifying the location of natural disasters.

It can also be used to find patterns in data and make predictions or classifications about that data. For example, a machine learning algorithm could be trained to look for certain patterns in bank transaction records or customer feedback in a survey and help companies better understand what customers like and dislike.

The key to machine learning is to make sure that the data you feed it is reliable and accurate. If you don’t have the correct data, your machine learning model will end up with incorrect outcomes or predictions that aren’t relevant.

Data can be sourced in many different ways, including paper ledgers, databases or digital files. You should always consider the problem that you want to solve and tailor your data-gathering methods in advance so that you can collect the right kind of information for your machine learning algorithms.

Another important step to preparing your data for machine learning is binning it into groups. This can be done either equidistantly or in a statistical manner, with a similar number of samples in each bin.

This can be a crucial step for machine learning models that will make predictions about the likelihood of a specific event. For instance, if you have data about loan defaults and loan repayments, you can divide it up into groups that represent those who defaulted on loans and those who didn’t.

Once you’ve grouped your data into groups, you can then begin converting that data into the format that will best fit your machine learning system. This includes removing missing values, rows and columns, duplicate data and other problems.

The last step in preparing your data for machine learning is feature engineering and feature selection, which can include decomposing data into variables or adding new ones to the dataset. This can improve the accuracy of your models and help you avoid the pitfalls of over-prediction and misclassification.

2. Algorithms

Algorithms are the code that allows computer systems to learn and understand large complex data patterns, making predictions and categorizing information. Machine learning algorithms can be classified into four main categories, depending on the learning technique used: supervised, semi-supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning.

Supervised learning is the most common type of machine learning and consists of giving a machine the input data, or labeled data, it needs to make predictions. For example, you could provide a fraud detection system with 500 cases of people who defaulted on their loans and another 500 who did not. The algorithm will use this to predict how likely it is that a customer will default on their loan in the future.

However, this type of supervised learning can result in an undesirable situation called algorithmic bias. This is because the algorithms might be trained on data that is not entirely prepared for the training process, such as racial or gender bias in hiring practices.

Some of the most popular supervised learning algorithms are K-Nearest Neighbors, Support Vector Machine, Random Forest, and Neural Networks. These algorithms can be used to analyze text, images, and other types of data.

These algorithms are able to identify patterns in data and make accurate predictions. They can also improve their performance over time, based on experience.

While there are many different algorithms, it is important to know which ones are best for your specific data and application. This will help you select the right algorithm for your problem and increase your chances of success.

A good way to determine which algorithm will work best for your application is to test multiple algorithms and compare their results. This will allow you to find the one that has the best results, as well as improve your overall algorithm efficiency and effectiveness.

Some of the most popular machine learning algorithms are Random Forest and Neural Networks, which are a form of ensemble learning that improves the performance of a model. Both are extremely powerful and can help you achieve the best results possible with your data.

3. Training

Machine learning is a technology that allows computers to learn from experience, and it can help solve complex problems in a number of areas. For example, it can help autonomous cars drive safely or recommend the best movies for a viewer.

Developing a strong machine learning model requires training. This involves choosing the correct algorithms and data for your specific problem. It also means testing your models to ensure they’re robust and accurate.

A good machine learning algorithm can only function well if it’s based on quality data. It can’t be effective if it’s trained on inaccurate or irrelevant information, and it’s vulnerable to overfitting and algorithmic bias.

Many businesses rely on open-source datasets, but these can be difficult to curate and label. Often, they require a team of data scientists to tweak or create new training sets to meet the needs of your particular ML project.

Another option for gathering and preparing training data is artificial training data, which is created by machine learning models. This is a good option for teams that need specific data with a lot of features for their ML algorithms.

Some companies collect data using cameras and other smart devices. These are typically used to gather sales data or customer feedback, but they can also be useful for other types of information.

In addition, many companies use machine learning for training their employees on new processes and products. This is similar to in-service training, and it’s important for employees to understand how the company’s products and processes work.

It’s also essential to train employees on new responsibilities and how they can contribute to the company’s success. This helps to build employee trust and makes them feel like they’re part of a team that cares about their success.

Finally, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of machine learning bias. Algorithms that are trained on data that discriminates against certain populations can lead to inaccurate models of the world that fail and cause inequities. This can result in legal and reputational harm for business owners.

4. Testing

The objective of testing machine learning systems is to ensure they are robust and perform as expected. This includes testing for data, the algorithm, and other components of the system. It also means testing the system’s response to new data inputs, and ensuring that the system is not affected by outliers, uneven distribution splits, and other factors that can degrade model performance.

Tests are important in any development process, and they can help identify issues before they get too far into a project. A team should consider integrating testing into their process at every phase, blending different approaches and techniques to achieve the best results.

In the context of machine learning, testing is especially important since these systems will not have any human intervention to support them. This makes it essential to use the right testing methods to verify that the software is stable, secure and working as expected.

While writing tests for traditional software is straightforward, the complexities of a machine learning workflow make this a much more difficult task. This is because ML systems often include complex components, such as data processing, feature representations, augmentation, model training, and interfaces to external systems.

There are several tests that can be applied to ML models, including regression and sanity testing. These tests are useful when a team wants to make sure that new features don’t break the existing functional code or create an unintended impact on customer experience.

Comparison testing is another technique used to detect defects. It compares the product’s output against the previous version and other similar products. It is a type of black box testing and a form of regression testing.

Pre-train testing is a common test that can help find bugs before running the model on real data. This test checks whether the model is leaking any labels or data during training jobs. It also helps eliminate wastage of data.

Similarly, inferencing tests are used to determine how a model responds to data it is given. It involves introducing perturbability into the input data and then calculating the model’s response time. This test helps teams find bugs that may result in a model’s failure to classify narration for a customer transaction, for example.

Ammar Fakhruddin


Ammar brings in 18 years of experience in strategic solutions and product development in Public Sector, Oil & Gas and Healthcare organizations. He loves solving complex real world business and data problems by bringing in leading-edge solutions that are cost effective, improve customer and employee experience. At Propelex he focuses on helping businesses achieve digital excellence using Smart Data & Cybersecurity solutions.

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