April 30th, 2021 · 13 min read
16th issue! If you missed them, you can read the previous issues of the Machine Learning Monthly newsletter here.
Daniel here, I'm 50% of the instructors behind the Complete Machine Learning and Data Science: Zero to Mastery course and our new TensorFlow for Deep Learning course!. I also write regularly about machine learning and on my own blog as well as make videos on the topic on YouTube.
Welcome to the 16th edition of Machine Learning Monthly. A 500ish (+/-1000ish, usually +) word post detailing some of the most interesting things on machine learning I've found in the last month.
Since there's a lot going on, the utmost care has been taken to keep things to the point.
Video version of this article is live. Check it out here!
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Welcome to the special design edition of Machine Learning Monthly!
I'm often asked, "what kind of machine learning project should I work on?"
Of course, there are an unlimited amount of answers I could give for that question. But I usually answer with "follow your curiosity".
Because of how experimental machine learning is, it's in your best interest to figure things out through tinkering. By trying things which might not work.
However, machine learning projects are no longer works of magic. The device you're reading this on probably uses machine learning in several different ways you're not aware of (see Apple's implicit machine learning below).
That being said, this issue of ML Monthly collects different design best practices from companies using machine learning at world-scale proportions.
And after reading through them, you'll start to notice there are many overlaps in how things are done. This is a good thing. Because the overlaps are what you can use for your own projects.
As models and machine learning code become more and more reproducible, you'll notice an overarching theme here: machine learning is an infrastructure problem.
Which is something you've known all along, "how do I get data from one place to another in the best way possible?"
If you're considering working on your own machine learning projects, read through each of the guidelines below and try the materials in bonuses section, but remember, none of these will replace the knowledge you gain from experimenting yourself.
Note: I have used the terms machine learning and AI interchangeably throughout this article. You can read "machine learning system" as "AI system" and vice versa.
I'm writing these lines on an Apple MacBook in a library where I can see at least 6 other Apple logos. This morning I watched two people in front of me pay for their coffee using their iPhones.
Apple devices are everywhere.
And they all use machine learning in many different ways, to enhance photos, to preserve battery life, to enable voice-searches with Siri, to suggest words for quick type.
Apple's Human Interface Guidelines for Machine Learning share how they think about and how they encourage developers to think about using machine learning in their applications.
They start with two high level questions and break it down from there:
For the role of machine learning in your app, they go on to ask, is it critical (need to have) or complementary (nice to have)? Is it private or public? Is it visible or invisible? Dynamic or static?
For the inputs and outputs (I'm a big fan of this analogy because it's similar to a ML model's inputs and outputs) they discuss what a person will put into your system and what your system will show them.
Does a person give a model explicit feedback? As in, do they tell your model if it's right or wrong. Or does your system gather implicit feedback (feedback which doesn't require a person to do any extra work other than use the app)?
Questions to think about when asking what role machine learning plays in your app/feature.
Google's design principles for AI can be found in their People and AI Research (PAIR) guidebook.
The PAIR guidebook also comes along with a great glossary of many different machine learning terms you'll come across in the field (there's a lot). It breaks down designing an AI project into six sections.
User Needs + Defining Success
Data Collection + Evaluation
Mental Models (setting expectations)
Explainability + Trust
Feedback + Control
Errors + Graceful Failure
Each section comes with a worksheet to practice what you've learned.
A trend you'll notice after going through the guidelines (especially PAIR) is setting expectations. Being upfront with what your system is capable of. If a person expects your system to be magic (as ML is often portrayed) but isn't aware of its limitations, they may be let down.
Microsoft's design guidelines for Human-AI interaction tackle the problem in four stages:
I noticed Microsoft's guidelines take you on a walk in a person using your ML system's shoes.
Again we see a trend.
Problem → Create solution (ML or not) → Set expectations → Allow feedback → Have a mechanism for when it's wrong → Improve over time (go back to the start).
Microsoft's guidelines for Human-AI interaction cards, starting with initial stages through to what to do as a person interacts with your machine learning system over time.
While previous resources have taken the approach of an overall ML system, Facebook's Field Guide to Machine Learning focuses more in on the modelling side of things.
Their video series breaks a machine learning modelling project into six parts:
But as the modelling side of things in machine learning gets more accessible (thanks to pretrained models, existing codebases, etc), it's important to keep in mind all of the other parts of machine learning.
I used Facebook's Field Guide to Machine Learning as the outline of the Zero To Mastery Data Science and Machine Learning Course. You can also read an expanded version of these steps on my blog.
How do you build a service which provides music to 250 million users across the world?
You start by going manual before you go magic (principle 3) and you continually ask the right questions (principle 2) to identify where the people using your service are facing friction (principle 1).
The sentence above is a play on words of Spotify's three principles for designing machine learning-powered products.
Principle 1: Identify friction and automate it away
Anywhere a person struggles in pursuit of their goals whilst using your service can be considered friction.
Imagine a person searching for new music on Spotify but unable to find anything which suits their tastes. Doing so could hurt someone's experience.
Spotify realized this and used machine learning-based recommendation systems to create Discover Weekly (what I'm currently listening to), a playlist which refreshes with new music ever week.
And in my case, it looks like they must've adhered to their other two principles whilst building it because these tracks I'm listening to are bangers.
Principle 2: Ask the right questions
Ask. Ask. Ask. If you don't know, you could end up designing a product in the wrong direction.
Much like many of the other guideline steps above challenge you to think from the person user your service's point of view, this is the goal of asking the right questions: find out what issues your customers are having and see if you can solve them using machine learning.
Principle 3: Go manual before you go magical
Found a source of friction?
Can you solve it without machine learning?
How about starting with a heuristic (an idea of how things should work)?
Like if you were Spotify and trying to build a playlist of new music someone was interested in, how do you classify something as new?
Your starting heuristic could be anything older than 30 days wouldn't be classified as new.
After testing multiple heuristics and hypothesises (a manual process) you could then again review whether or not machine learning could help. And because of your experiments, you'd be doing so from a very well-informed point of view.
Andrew Ng presented a talk at Scale's recent conference on the movement of ML systems from big data to good data. And Roboflow did a great summary of the main points — all of which talk to the things we've discussed above.
Some of my favourites include:
Andrew Ng on the importance of thinking about good data as well as big data.
The above are all guidelines on how to think about building ML-powered systems. But they don't necessary show you tools or how to go about doing so.
The following are extra resources I'd recommend for filling the gaps left by the above.
Choose one and read through/work through all the materials/labs whilst building your own ML-powered project.
What a massive month for the ML world in April!
As always, let me know if there's anything you think should be included in a future post. Liked something here? Tell a friend!
In the meantime, keep learning, keep creating, keep dancing.
See you next month,
PS. You can see also video versions of these articles on my YouTube channel (usually a few days after the article goes live).
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By the way, I'm a full time instructor with Zero To Mastery Academy teaching people Machine Learning in the most efficient way possible. You can see a couple of our courses below or see all Zero To Mastery courses by visiting the courses page.