The book lays out a clear and compelling case for how data-driven algorithms can become — in contrast to their promise of amoral objectivism — efficient means for reproducing and even exacerbating social inequalities and injustices. From predictive policing and recidivism risk models to targeted marketing for predatory loans and for-profit universities, O’Neil explains how to recognize WMDs by 3 distinct features:

- The model is either hidden, or opaque to the individuals affected by its calculations, restricting any possibility of seeking recourse against – or understanding of – its results or conclusions.
- The model works against the subject’s interest (eg. it is unfair).
- The model scales, giving it the opportunity to negatively affect a very large segment of the population.

The taxonomy provides a simple framework for identifying WMDs in the wild. However, importantly for data scientists and other data practitioners, it forms a checklist (or rather an anti-checklist) to keep in mind when developing models that will be deployed into the real world. As data scientists, many of us are strongly incentivized to achieve feature 3, and doing so only makes it increasingly important to be constantly questioning the degree to which our models could fall victim to features 2 and 1.

Feature 2, as O’Neil lays out, can occur despite the best intentions of a model’s creators. This can (and does!) happen in two ways: First, when a modeler seeks to create an objective system for rating individuals (say, for acceptance to a prestigious university, or for a payday loan), the data used to build the model is *already encoded with the socially constructed biases* of the conditions under which it was generated. Even when attempting to exclude potentially bias-laden factors such as race or gender, this information seeps into the model nonetheless via correlations to seemingly benign variables such as zip codes or the makeup of a subject’s social connections.

Second, when the outcome of the model results in the reinforcement of the unjust conditions from which it was created, a negative feedback loop is created. Such a negative feedback loop is particularly present and pernicious in the use of recidivism risk models to guide sentencing decisions. An individual may be labeled as high risk due not to qualities of the individual himself, but his circumstances of living in a poor, high crime neighborhood. Being incarcerated based on the results of this model renders him more likely to end up back in that neighborhood, subject to continued poverty and disproportionate policing. Thus the model has set up the conditions to fulfill its own prediction.

As machine learning algorithms become more and more accurate at a variety of tasks, their inner workings become harder and harder to understand. The trend will make it increasingly difficult to avoid feature 1 of the WMD taxonomy. Current advanced techniques like deep learning are creating models that are remarkably performant, yet not fully understood by the researchers creating them, much less the individuals affected by their results. In light of this, we need to think carefully as data scientists about how to communicate these models with as much transparency as possible. How to do so remains an open question. But the internal ‘black box’ nature of these algorithms does not obviate our responsibility to disclose exactly what input data went into a given model, what assumptions were made of that data, and on what criteria the model was trained.

Overall, WMD provides an incredibly important framework for thinking about the consequences of uncritically applying data and algorithms to people’s lives. For those of us, like O’Neil herself, who make our living using mathematics to create data-driven algorithms, taking to heart the lessons contained in *Weapons Of Math Destruction* will be our best defense against unwittingly creating the bomb ourselves.

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This is a guest post by Brian D’Alessandro, who daylights as the Head of Data Science at Zocdoc and as an Adjunct Professor with NYU’s Center for Data Science. When not thinking probabilistically, he’s drumming with the indie surf rock quarter Coastgaard. I’d like to address the recent study by Roland Fryer Jr from…]]>

When reading headlines about findings from data, always ask: “To what population does this conclusion apply?” Brian D’Alessandro explains eloquently why sampling matters.

*This is a guest post by Brian D’Alessandro, who daylights as the Head of Data Science at Zocdoc and as an Adjunct Professor with NYU’s Center for Data Science. When not thinking probabilistically, he’s drumming with the indie surf rock quarter Coastgaard.*

I’d like to address the recent study by Roland Fryer Jr from Harvard University, and associated NY Times coverage, that claims to show zero racial bias in police shootings. While this paper certainly makes an honest attempt to study this very important and timely problem, it ultimately suffers from issues of data sampling and subjective data preparation. Given the media attention it is receiving, and the potential policy and public perceptual implications of this attention, we as a community of data people need to comb through this work and make sure the headlines are consistent with the underlying statistics.

First thing’s first: is there really zero…

View original post 1,204 more words

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Code snippets to generate animated examples here.

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@CjBayesian giving an awesome talk on #machinelearning at tonight’s dataphilly! pic.twitter.com/Hojn5t7tDl

— DataPhilly (@DataPhilly) February 19, 2016

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6:00 PM to 9:00 PM

**Speakers:**

- Corey Chivers
- Randy Olson
- Austin Rochford

**Abstract**: Corey will present a brief introduction to machine learning. In his talk he will demystify what is often seen as a dark art. Corey will describe how we “teach” machines to learn patterns from examples by breaking the process into its easy-to-understand component parts. By using examples from fields as diverse as biology, health-care, astrophysics, and NBA basketball, Corey will show how data (both big and small) is used to teach machines to predict the future so we can make better decisions.

**Bio**: Corey Chivers is a Senior Data Scientist at Penn Medicine where he is building machine learning systems to improve patient outcomes by providing real-time predictive applications that empower clinicians to identify at risk individuals. When he’s not pouring over data, he’s likely to be found cycling around his adoptive city of Philadelphia or blogging about all things probability and data at bayesianbiologist.com.

**Randy Olson** (University of Pennsylvania Institute for Biomedical Informatics):

**Automating data science through tree-based pipeline optimization**

**Abstract**: Over the past decade, data science and machine learning has grown from a mysterious art form to a staple tool across a variety of fields in business, academia, and government. In this talk, I’m going to introduce the concept of tree-based pipeline optimization for automating one of the most tedious parts of machine learning — pipeline design. All of the work presented in this talk is based on the open source Tree-based Pipeline Optimization Tool (TPOT), which is available on GitHub at https://github.com/rhiever/tpot.

**Bio**: Randy Olson is an artificial intelligence researcher at the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Biomedical Informatics, where he develops state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms to solve biomedical problems. He regularly writes about his latest adventures in data science at RandalOlson.com/blog, and tweets about the latest data science news at http://twitter.com/randal_olson.

**Abstract**: Bayesian optimization is a technique for finding the extrema of functions which are expensive, difficult, or time-consuming to evaluate. It has many applications to optimizing the hyperparameters of machine learning models, optimizing the inputs to real-world experiments and processes, etc. This talk will introduce the Gaussian process approach to Bayesian optimization, with sample code in Python.

**Bio**: Austin Rochford is a Data Scientist at Monetate. He is a former mathematician who is interested in Bayesian nonparametrics, multilevel models, probabilistic programming, and efficient Bayesian computation.

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**Let’s get hypothetical**

You’ve taken a bet that pays off if you guess the exact date of the next occurrence of a rare event (p = 0.0001 on any given day i.i.d). What day do you choose? In other words, what is the most likely day for this rare event to occur?

Setting aside for now why in the world you’ve taken such a silly sounding bet, it would seem as though a reasonable way to think about it would be to ask: what is the expected number of days until the event? That must be the best bet, right?

We can work out the expected number of days quite easily as 1/p = 10000. So using the logic of expectation, we would choose day 10000 as our bet.

Let’s simulate to see how often we would win with this strategy. We’ll simulate the outcomes by flipping a weighted coin until it comes out heads. We’ll do this 100,000 times and record how many flips it took each time.

The event occurred on day 10,000 exactly 35 times. However, if we look at a histogram of our simulation experiment, we can see that the time it took for the rare event to happen was more often short, than long. In fact, the event occurred 103 times on the very first flip (the most common Time to Event in our set)!

So from the experiment it would seem that the most likely amount of time to pass until the rare event occurs is 0. Maybe our hypothetical event was just not rare *enough*. Let’s try it again with p=0.0000001, or an event with a 1 in 1million chance of occurring each day.

While now our event is extremely unlikely to occur, it’s still *most likely* to occur right away.

**Existential Risk**

What does this all have to do with seizing the day? Everything we do in a given day comes with some degree of risk. The Stanford professor Ronald A. Howard conceived of a way of measuring the riskiness of various day-to-day activities, which he termed the **micromort**. One micromort is a unit of risk equal to p = 0.000001 (1 in a million chance) of death. We are all subject to a baseline level of risk in micromorts, and additional activities may add or subtract from that level (skiing, for instance adds 0.7 micromorts per day).

While minimizing the risks we assume in our day-to-day lives can increase our expected life span, the most likely exact day of our demise is always our next one. So *carpe diem*!!

Post Script:

Don’t get too freaked out by all of this. It’s just a bit of fun that comes from viewing the problem in a very specific way. That is, as a question of which exact day is most likely. The much more natural way to view it is to ask, what is the relative probability of the unlikely event occurring tomorrow vs * any other day but tomorrow*. I leave it to the reader to confirm that for events with

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Being a machine learning conference, it’s only reasonable that we apply a little machine learning to this (decidedly _small_) data.

Building off of the great example code in a post by Jordan Barber on Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) with Python, I scraped the paper titles and built an LDA topic model with 5 topics. All of the code to reproduce this post is available on github. Here are the top 10 most probable words from each of the derived topics:

0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | |
---|---|---|---|---|---|

0 | learning | learning | optimization | learning | via |

1 | models | inference | networks | bayesian | models |

2 | neural | sparse | time | sample | inference |

3 | high | models | stochastic | analysis | networks |

4 | stochastic | non | model | data | deep |

5 | dimensional | optimization | convex | inference | learning |

6 | networks | algorithms | monte | spectral | fast |

7 | graphs | multi | carlo | networks | variational |

8 | optimal | linear | neural | bandits | neural |

9 | sampling | convergence | information | methods | convolutional |

Normally, we might try to attach some kind of label to each topic using our beefy human brains and subject matter expertise, but I didn’t bother with this — nothing too obvious stuck out at me. If you think that you have appropriate names for them feel free to let me know. Given that we are only working with the titles (no abstracts or full paper text), I think that there aren’t obvious human-interpretable topics jumping out. But let’s not let that stop us from proceeding.

We can also represent the inferred topics with the much maligned, but handy-dandy wordcloud visualization:

Since we are modeling the paper title generating process as a probability distribution of topics, each of which is a probability distribution of words, we can use this generating process to suggest keywords for each title. These keywords may or may not show up in the title itself. Here are some from the first 10 titles:

================ Double or Nothing: Multiplicative Incentive Mechanisms for Crowdsourcing Generated Keywords: [u'iteration', u'inference', u'theory'] ================ Learning with Symmetric Label Noise: The Importance of Being Unhinged Generated Keywords: [u'uncertainty', u'randomized', u'neural'] ================ Algorithmic Stability and Uniform Generalization Generated Keywords: [u'spatial', u'robust', u'dimensional'] ================ Adaptive Low-Complexity Sequential Inference for Dirichlet Process Mixture Models Generated Keywords: [u'rates', u'fast', u'based'] ================ Covariance-Controlled Adaptive Langevin Thermostat for Large-Scale Bayesian Sampling Generated Keywords: [u'monte', u'neural', u'stochastic'] ================ Robust Portfolio Optimization Generated Keywords: [u'learning', u'online', u'matrix'] ================ Logarithmic Time Online Multiclass prediction Generated Keywords: [u'complexity', u'problems', u'stein'] ================ Planar Ultrametric Rounding for Image Segmentation Generated Keywords: [u'deep', u'graphs', u'neural'] ================ Expressing an Image Stream with a Sequence of Natural Sentences Generated Keywords: [u'latent', u'process', u'stochastic'] ================ Parallel Correlation Clustering on Big Graphs Generated Keywords: [u'robust', u'learning', u'learning']

While some titles are strongly associated with a single topic, others seem to be generated from more even distributions over topics than others. Paper titles with more equal representation over topics could be considered to be, in some way, more *interdisciplinary,* or at least, *intertopicular* (yes, I just made that word up). To find these papers, we’ll find which paper titles have the highest information entropy in their inferred topic distribution.

Here are the top 10 along with their associated entropies:

So it looks like by this method, the ‘Where are they looking’ has the highest entropy as a result of topic uncertainty, more than any real multi-topic content.

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Also on the line-up was (sometimes contributor to bayesianbiologist) Matt Sunquist. He demo’d some of plot.ly‘s most recent features to audible gasps of delight for the audience.

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From what I can tell, there are no builtins in the python data ecosystem (numpy, pandas, matplotlib) for this so I coded up a function to emulate the R behaviour. You can get it in this gist (feedback welcomed).

Here’s an example of it in action showing derived time-series features (12 hour rates of change) for some clinical variables.

plot_correlogram(df)

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find . -iname "*.R" -print0 | xargs -L1 -0 egrep -r "plot(" | wc -l 2922

The actual number is very likely orders of magnitude larger as 1) many of these plot statements are in loops, 2) it doesn’t capture how many times I may have ran a given script, 3) it doesn’t look at previous versions, 4) plot is not the only command to generate figures in R (eg hist), and 5) early in my graduate career I mainly used gnuplot and near the end I was using more and more matplotlib. But even at this lower bound, that’s nearly 3,000 plots. A quick look at the TOC of my thesis reveals a grand total of 33 figures. Were all the rest a waste? (Hint: No.)

The overwhelming majority of the plots that I created served a very different function than these final, publication-ready figures. Generally, visualizations are either:

- A) Communication between
**you and data**, or - B) Communication between
**you and someone else**,*through*data.

These two modes serve very different purposes and can require taking different approaches in their creation. Visualizations in the first mode need only be quick and dirty. You can often forget about all that nice axis labeling, optimal color contrast, and whiz-bang interactivity. As per my estimates above, this made up *at the very least* 10:1 of visuals created. The important thing is that, in this mode, ** you already have all of the context**. You know what the variables are, you know what the colors, shapes, sizes, and layouts mean – after all, you just coded it. The beauty of this is that you can iterate on these plots very quickly. The conversation between you and the data can dialogue back and forth as you intrepidly explore and shine your light into all of it’s dark little corners.

In the second mode, you are telling a story to someone else. Much more thought and care needs to be placed on ensuring that * the whole story is being told with the visualization*. It is all too easy to produce something that makes sense to you, but is completely unintelligible to your intended audience. I’ve learned the hard way that this kind of visual should always be test-driven by someone who, ideally, is a member of your intended audience. When you are as steeped in the data as you most likely are, your mind will fill in any missing pieces of the story – something your audience won’t do.

In my new role as part of the Data Science team at Penn Medicine, I’ll be making more and more data visualizations in the second mode. A little less talking to myself with data, and a little more communicating with others *through* data. I’ll be sharing some of my experiences, tools, wins, and disasters here. Stay tuned!

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