Michael Jordan (Não o do basquete) fala sobre alguns tópicos em Aprendizado de Máquina e sobre Big Data

Abaixo está o depoimento mais sensato sobre alguns assuntos relativos à análise de dados, Data Mining, e principalmente Big Data.

UPDATE: O próprio MJordan deu uma entrevista dizendo que em alguns pontos foi mal interpretado. No entanto, cabe ressaltar que muito do que é importante na fala ele não falou nada a respeito; então tirem as suas conclusões.

Para quem não sabe, o Michael Jordan (IEEE) é uma das maiores autoridades no que diz respeito em aprendizado de máquina no mundo acadêmico.

Esta entrevista (que foi sonegada por este espaço por puro desleixo) ele apresenta argumentos extremamente sóbrios e lúcidos sobre Deep Learning (que terá um tópico aqui em breve) e principalmente sobre o Big Data.

Sobre a parte de Big Data em especial, esses comentários convidam à uma reflexão, e acima de tudo colocam pontos que merecem ser discutidos sobre esse fenômeno.

Obviamente empresas do calibre da Google, Amazon, Yahoo, e alguns projetos como Genoma podem ter benefício de grandes volumes de dados. O problema principal é que todo essa hipsterização em torno do Big Data parece muito mais algo orientado ao marketing do que a resolução de questões de negócio pertinentes.

Seguem alguns trechos importantes:

Sobre Deep Learning, simplificações e afins…

IEEE Spectrum: I infer from your writing that you believe there’s a lot of misinformation out there about deep learning, big data, computer vision, and the like.

Michael Jordan: Well, on all academic topics there is a lot of misinformation. The media is trying to do its best to find topics that people are going to read about. Sometimes those go beyond where the achievements actually are. Specifically on the topic of deep learning, it’s largely a rebranding of neural networks, which go back to the 1980s. They actually go back to the 1960s; it seems like every 20 years there is a new wave that involves them. In the current wave, the main success story is the convolutional neural network, but that idea was already present in the previous wave. And one of the problems with both the previous wave, that has unfortunately persisted in the current wave, is that people continue to infer that something involving neuroscience is behind it, and that deep learning is taking advantage of an understanding of how the brain processes information, learns, makes decisions, or copes with large amounts of data. And that is just patently false.

Spectrum: It’s always been my impression that when people in computer science describe how the brain works, they are making horribly reductionist statements that you would never hear from neuroscientists. You called these “cartoon models” of the brain.

Michael Jordan: I wouldn’t want to put labels on people and say that all computer scientists work one way, or all neuroscientists work another way. But it’s true that with neuroscience, it’s going to require decades or even hundreds of years to understand the deep principles. There is progress at the very lowest levels of neuroscience. But for issues of higher cognition—how we perceive, how we remember, how we act—we have no idea how neurons are storing information, how they are computing, what the rules are, what the algorithms are, what the representations are, and the like. So we are not yet in an era in which we can be using an understanding of the brain to guide us in the construction of intelligent systems.

Sobre Big Data

Spectrum: If we could turn now to the subject of big data, a theme that runs through your remarks is that there is a certain fool’s gold element to our current obsession with it. For example, you’ve predicted that society is about to experience an epidemic of false positives coming out of big-data projects.

Michael Jordan: When you have large amounts of data, your appetite for hypotheses tends to get even larger. And if it’s growing faster than the statistical strength of the data, then many of your inferences are likely to be false. They are likely to be white noise.

Spectrum: How so?

Michael Jordan: In a classical database, you have maybe a few thousand people in them. You can think of those as the rows of the database. And the columns would be the features of those people: their age, height, weight, income, et cetera.

Now, the number of combinations of these columns grows exponentially with the number of columns. So if you have many, many columns—and we do in modern databases—you’ll get up into millions and millions of attributes for each person.

Now, if I start allowing myself to look at all of the combinations of these features—if you live in Beijing, and you ride bike to work, and you work in a certain job, and are a certain age—what’s the probability you will have a certain disease or you will like my advertisement? Now I’m getting combinations of millions of attributes, and the number of such combinations is exponential; it gets to be the size of the number of atoms in the universe.

Those are the hypotheses that I’m willing to consider. And for any particular database, I will find some combination of columns that will predict perfectly any outcome, just by chance alone. If I just look at all the people who have a heart attack and compare them to all the people that don’t have a heart attack, and I’m looking for combinations of the columns that predict heart attacks, I will find all kinds of spurious combinations of columns, because there are huge numbers of them.

So it’s like having billions of monkeys typing. One of them will write Shakespeare.

Spectrum:Do you think this aspect of big data is currently underappreciated?

Michael Jordan: Definitely.

Spectrum: What are some of the things that people are promising for big data that you don’t think they will be able to deliver?

Michael Jordan: I think data analysis can deliver inferences at certain levels of quality. But we have to be clear about what levels of quality. We have to have error bars around all our predictions. That is something that’s missing in much of the current machine learning literature.

Spectrum: What will happen if people working with data don’t heed your advice?

Michael Jordan: I like to use the analogy of building bridges. If I have no principles, and I build thousands of bridges without any actual science, lots of them will fall down, and great disasters will occur.

Similarly here, if people use data and inferences they can make with the data without any concern about error bars, about heterogeneity, about noisy data, about the sampling pattern, about all the kinds of things that you have to be serious about if you’re an engineer and a statistician—then you will make lots of predictions, and there’s a good chance that you will occasionally solve some real interesting problems. But you will occasionally have some disastrously bad decisions. And you won’t know the difference a priori. You will just produce these outputs and hope for the best.

And so that’s where we are currently. A lot of people are building things hoping that they work, and sometimes they will. And in some sense, there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s exploratory. But society as a whole can’t tolerate that; we can’t just hope that these things work. Eventually, we have to give real guarantees. Civil engineers eventually learned to build bridges that were guaranteed to stand up. So with big data, it will take decades, I suspect, to get a real engineering approach, so that you can say with some assurance that you are giving out reasonable answers and are quantifying the likelihood of errors.

Spectrum: Do we currently have the tools to provide those error bars?

Michael Jordan: We are just getting this engineering science assembled. We have many ideas that come from hundreds of years of statistics and computer science. And we’re working on putting them together, making them scalable. A lot of the ideas for controlling what are called familywise errors, where I have many hypotheses and want to know my error rate, have emerged over the last 30 years. But many of them haven’t been studied computationally. It’s hard mathematics and engineering to work all this out, and it will take time.

It’s not a year or two. It will take decades to get right. We are still learning how to do big data well.

Spectrum: When you read about big data and health care, every third story seems to be about all the amazing clinical insights we’ll get almost automatically, merely by collecting data from everyone, especially in the cloud.

Michael Jordan: You can’t be completely a skeptic or completely an optimist about this. It is somewhere in the middle. But if you list all the hypotheses that come out of some analysis of data, some fraction of them will be useful. You just won’t know which fraction. So if you just grab a few of them—say, if you eat oat bran you won’t have stomach cancer or something, because the data seem to suggest that—there’s some chance you will get lucky. The data will provide some support.

But unless you’re actually doing the full-scale engineering statistical analysis to provide some error bars and quantify the errors, it’s gambling. It’s better than just gambling without data. That’s pure roulette. This is kind of partial roulette.

Spectrum: What adverse consequences might await the big-data field if we remain on the trajectory you’re describing?

Michael Jordan: The main one will be a “big-data winter.” After a bubble, when people invested and a lot of companies overpromised without providing serious analysis, it will bust. And soon, in a two- to five-year span, people will say, “The whole big-data thing came and went. It died. It was wrong.” I am predicting that. It’s what happens in these cycles when there is too much hype, i.e., assertions not based on an understanding of what the real problems are or on an understanding that solving the problems will take decades, that we will make steady progress but that we haven’t had a major leap in technical progress. And then there will be a period during which it will be very hard to get resources to do data analysis. The field will continue to go forward, because it’s real, and it’s needed. But the backlash will hurt a large number of important projects.

Michael Jordan (Não o do basquete) fala sobre alguns tópicos em Aprendizado de Máquina e sobre Big Data

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