The saying ‘Big Brother is Watching’ has been around a long time and typically gets associated with government organisations. But over the past few years we have a few new Big Brothers appearing. These are in the form of Google and Facebook and a few others.
These companies gather lots and lots. Some companies gather enormous amounts of data. This data will include details of your interactions with the companies through various websites, applications, etc. But some are gathering data in ways that you might not be aware. For example, take this following video. Data is being gathered about what you do and where you go even if you have disconnected your phone.
Did you know this kind of data was being gathered about you?
Just think of what they could be doing with that data, that data you didn’t know they were gathering about you. Companies like these generate huge amounts of income from selling advertisements and the more data they have about individuals the more the can understand what they might be interested. The generate customer profiles and sell expensive advertising based on having these very detailed customer profiles.
But it doesn’t stop there. Recently Google bought Fitbit. Just think about what they can do now. Combining their existing profiles of you as a person with you activities throughout every day, week and month. Just think about how various health and insurance companies would love to have this data. Yes they would and companies like Google would be able to charge these companies even more money for this level of detail on individuals/customers.
But it doesn’t stop there. There have been lots of reports of various apps sharing health and other related data with various companies, without their customers being aware this is happening.
What about Google Assistant? In a recent article by MIT Technology Review title Inside Amazon’s plan for Alexa to run your entire life, they discuss how Alexa can be used to control virtually everything. In this article Alexa’s cheif scientist say “plan is for the voice assistant to move from passive to proactive interactions. Rather than wait for and respond to requests, Alexa will anticipate what the user might want. The idea is to turn Alexa into an omnipresent companion that actively shapes and orchestrates your life. This will require Alexa to get to know you better than ever before.” When combined with other products this will allow “these new products let Alexa listen to and log data about a dramatically larger portion of your life“.
Just imagine if Google did the same with their Google Assistant! Big Brother isn’t just Watching, they are also Listening!
There has been some recent report of Google looking to get into Banking by offering checking accounts. The project, code-named Cache, is due to launch in 2020. Google has partnered with Citigroup and a credit union at Stanford University, which will administer the accounts. Users will be able to access their accounts through Google’s digital payment platform, Google Pay.
And there are the reports of Google having access to the health records of over 50 million people. In addition to this, Google has signed a deal with Ascension, the second-largest hospital system in the US, to collect and analyze millions of Americans’ personal health data. Ascension operates in 150 hospitals in 21 states.
What if they also had access to your banking details and spending habits? Google is looking at different options to extend financial products from the google pay into more main stream banking. There has been some recent report of them looking at offering current accounts.
I won’t go discussing their attempts at Ethics and their various (failed) attempts at establishing and Ethics Advisory Board. This has been well documented elsewhere.
Things are getting a bit scary and the saying ‘Big Brother is Watching You’, is very, very true.
In the ever increasing connected world, all of us have a responsibility to know what data companies are gathering on us. We need to decide how comfortable we are with this and if you aren’t then you need to take steps to ensure you protect yourself. Maybe part of this protection requires us to become less connected, stop using some apps, turn off more notification, turn off updates, turn off tracking, etc
While taking each product or offering individually, it may seem ok to us for Google and other companies to offer such services and to analyze our data to provide a better service. But for most people the issues arise when each of these products start to be combined. By doing this they get to have greater access and understanding our our data and our behaviors. What role does (digital) ethics play in all of this? This is something for the company and the employees to decide where things should stop. But when/how do you decide this? when do you/they know things have gone too far? how can you undo some of this work to go back to an acceptable level? what is an acceptable level and how do you define this?
As yo can see there are lots of things to consider and a vital component is the role of (digital) ethics. All organizations who process and analyze data need to have an ethics board and ethics needs to be a core part of every project. To support this everyone needs more training and awareness of ethics and what is acceptable or not.
When preparing data for data science, data mining or machine learning projects you will create a data set that describes the various characteristics of the subject or case record. Each attribute will contain some descriptive information about the subject and is related to the target variable in some way.
In addition to these attributes, the data set will be enriched with various other internal/external data to complete the data set.
Some of the attributes in the data set can be grouped under the heading of Demographics. Demographic data contains attributes that explain or describe the person or event each case record is focused on. For example, if the subject of the case record is based on Customer data, this is the “Who” the demographic data (and features/attributes) will be about. Examples of demographic data include:
- Age range
- Marital status
- Number of children
- Household income
- Educational level
These features/attributes are typically readily available within your data sources and if they aren’t then these name be available from a purchased data set.
Additional feature engineering methods are used to generate new features/attributes that express meaning is different ways. This can be done by combining features in different ways, binning, dimensionality reduction, discretization, various data transformations, etc. The list can go on.
The aim of all of this is to enrich the data set to include more descriptive data about the subject. This enriched data set will then be used by the machine learning algorithms to find the hidden patterns in the data. The richer and descriptive the data set is the greater the likelihood of the algorithms in detecting the various relationships between the features and their values. These relationships will then be included in the created/generated model.
Another approach to consider when creating and enriching your data set is move beyond the descriptive features typically associated with Demographic data, to include Pyschographic data.
Psychographic data is a variation on demographic data where the feature are about describing the habits of the subject or customer. Demographics focus on the “who” while psycographics focus on the “why”. For example, a common problem with data sets is that they describe subjects/people who have things in common. In such scenarios we want to understand them at a deeper level. Psycographics allows us to do this. Examples of Psycographics include:
- Lifestyle activities
- Evening activities
- Purchasing interests – quality over economy, how environmentally concerned are you
- How happy are you with work, family, etc
- Social activities and changes in these
- What attitudes you have for certain topic areas
- What are your principles and beliefs
The above gives a far deeper insight into the subject/person and helps to differentiate each subject/person from each other, when there is a high similarity between all subjects in the data set. For example, demographic information might tell you something about a person’s age, but psychographic information will tell you that the person is just starting a family and is in the market for baby products.
I’ll close with this. Consider the various types of data gathering that companies like Google, Facebook, etc perform. They gather lots of different types of data about individuals. This allows them to build up a complete and extensive profile of all activities for individuals. They can use this to deliver more accurate marketing and advertising. For example, Google gathers data about what places to visit throughout a data, they gather all your search results, and lots of other activities. They can do a lot with this data. but now they own Fitbit. Think about what they can do with that data and particularly when combined with all the other data they have about you. What if they had access to your medical records too! Go Google this ! You will find articles about them now having access to your health records. Again combine all of the data from these different data sources. How valuable is that data?
You: What? You can’t be serious? Machine Learning on Mobile Devices?
Me: The simple answer is ‘Yes you can!”
You: But, what about all the complex data processing, CPU or GPU, and everything else that is needed for machine learning?
Me: Yes you are correct, those things might not be needed. What’s the answer to everything in IT?
You: It Depends ?
Me: Exactly. Yes It Depends on what you are doing. In most cases you don’t need large amounts of machine processing power to do machine learning. Except if you are doing image processing. Then you do need a bit of power to support that work.
You: But how can a mobile device be used for machine learning?
Me: It Depends! 🙂 It depends on what you are doing. Most of the data processing power needed is for creating the models. That is what most people talk about. Very few people talk about the deployment of machine learning. Deployment, as in, using the machine learning models in your applications.
You: But why mobile devices? That sounds a bit silly?
Me: It does a bit. But when you think about it, how much do you use your mobile phone and tablet? Where else have you seen mobile devices being used?
You: I use these all the time, to do nearly everything. Just like everyone else I know.
Me: Exactly! and where else have you seen mobile devices being used?
You: Everywhere! hotels, bars, shops, hospitals, everywhere!
Me: Exactly. And it kind of makes sense to have machine learning scoring done at the point of capture of the data and not some hours or days or weeks later in some data warehouse or something else.
You: But what about the processing power of these devices. They aren’t powerful enough to run the machine learning models? Or are they?
Me: What is a machine learning model? In a simple way it is a mathematical formula of the data that calculates a particular outcome. Something that is a bit more complicated than using a sum function. Could a mobile device do that easily?
You: Yes. That should be really easy and fast for mobile devices? But machine learning is complex. People keep telling me how complex it is and how difficult it is!
Me: True it can be, but for most problems it can be as simple as writing a few lines of code to create a model. 3-4 lines of code in some languages. But the applying of the the machine learning model can be a simple task (maybe 1 line of code), although some simple data formatting might be needed, but that is a simple task too.
You: So, how can a machine learning model be run on a mobile device?
Me: Programmers write code to run applications on mobile devices. This code can be extended to include the machine learning model. This can be used to score or label the data or do some other processing. A few lines of code. A good alternative is to create a web service to all the remove scoring of the data.
You: The programming languages used for mobile development are a bit different to most other applications. Surely those mobile device languages don’t support machine learning.
Me: You’d be surprised by what’s available.
You: OK, What languages can I try? Where can I get started?
You. Brilliant, thank you Brendan. I’ll let you know how I get on with those.
In a previous blog post I gave some examples of how facial images recognition and videos are being used in our daily lives. In this post I want to extend this with some additional examples. There are ethical issues around this and in some of these examples their usage has stopped. What is also interesting is the reaction on various social media channels about this. People don’t like it and and happen that some of these have stopped.
But how widespread is this technology? Based on these known examples, and this list is by no means anywhere near complete, but gives an indication of the degree of it’s deployment and how widespread it is.
Dubai is using facial recognition to measure customer satisfaction at four of the Roads and Transport Authority Customer Happiness Centers. They analyze the faces of their customers and rank their level of happiness. They can use this to generate alerts when the happiness levels falls below certain levels.
Various department stores are using facial recognition throughout the stores and at checkout. These are being used to delivery personalized adverts to users on either in-store screen or on personalized screens on the shopping trolley. And can be used to verify a person’s age if they are buying alcohol or other products. Tesco’s have previously used face-scanning cameras at tills in petrol stations to target advertisements at customers depending on their age and approximate age.
Some retail stores are using ML to monitor you, monitor what items you pick up and what you pay for at the checkout, identifying any differences and what steps to take next.
In a slight variation of facial recognition, some stores are using similar technology to monitor stock levels, monitor how people interact with different products (e.g pick up one product and then relate it with a similar product), and optimized location of products. Walmart has been a learner in the are of AI and Machine Learning in the retail section for some time now.
The New York Metropolitan Transport Authority has been using facial capture and recognition at several site across the city. Their proof of concept location was at the Robert F Kennedy Bridge. The company supplying the technology claimed 80% accuracy at predicting the person, through a widescreen while the car was traveling at low speed. These images can then be matched against government databases, such as driver license authorities, police databases and terrorist databases. The problem with this project was that it did not achieve one single positive match (within acceptable parameters) during the initial period of the project.
There are some reports that similar technology is being use on the New York Subway system in Time Square to help with identifying fare dodgers.
How about using facial recognition at boarding gates for your new flight instead of showing your passport or other official photo id. JetBlue and other airlines are now using this technology. Some airports have been using this for many many years.
San Francisco City government took steps in May 2019 to ban the use of facial recognition across all city functions. Other cities like Oakland and Sommerville in Massachusetts have implemented similar bans with other cities likely to follow. But it doesn’t ban the use by private companies.
What about using this technology to automatically monitor and manage staff. Manage staff, as in to decide who should be fired and who should be reallocated elsewhere. It is reported that Amazon is using facial and other recognition systems to monitor staff productivity in their warehouses.
A point I highlighted in my previous post was how are these systems/applications able to get enough images as training samples for their models. This is considering that most of the able systems/applications say they don’t keep any of the images they capture.
How many of us take pictures and post them on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. By doing this, you are making those images available to these companies to training their machine learning model. To do this they scrap the images for these sites and then have to manually label them with descriptive information. It is a combination of the image and descriptive information that is used by the machine learning algorithms to learn and build a model that suits their needs. See the MIT Technology Review article for more details and example on this topic.
There are also reports of some mobile phone apps that turn on your mobile phone camera. The apps will detect if the phone is possibly mounted on the dashboard of a car, and then takes pictures of the inside of the car and also pictures of where you are driving. Similar reports exists about many apps and voice activated devices.
So be careful what you post on social media or anywhere else online, and be careful of what apps you have on your mobile phone!
There is a general backlash to the use of this technology, and with more people becoming aware of what is happening, we need to more aware of what when and where this technology is being used.
Last week I wrote a blog post about how long it took to create machine learning models on Oracle Database Cloud service. There was some impressive results and some surprising results too.
I decided to try out the exact same tests, using the exact same data on the Oracle Autonomous Data Warehouse Cloud service (ADW).
When creating the ADW service I took the basic configuration and didn’t change anything. The inbuilt machine learning for the Autonomous service will magically workout my needs and make the necessary adjustments, Right? It can handle any data volume and any data processing requirements, Right?
Here are the results.
* You will notice that there is no time given for creating a SVM model for the 10M record data set. After waiting for 4 hours I got bored and gave up waiting (I actually did this three time to make sure it wasn’t a once off)
[I also had a 50M record data set. I just didn’t waste time trying that.]
[Neural Networks algorithm hasn’t been ported onto ADW at this point in time]
If you look back at the results from using the DBaaS you will see it was significantly quicker than the ADW. (for some it would be quicker using Python on my laptop)
Before you believe the hype, go test it yourself and make sure it measures up.
I re-ran my test cases over a number of days to see if the machine learning aspect of the Autonomous kicked in to learn from the processing and make any performance improvements. Sadly the results were basically the same or slightly slower. Disappointing.
When some tells you, you should be using this, ask them have they actually used and tested it themselves. And more importantly, don’t believe them. Go test it yourself.
I recently had an article published on Oracle Developer Community website about Understanding, Building and Using Neural Network Machine Learning Models with Oracle 18c. I’ve also had a 2 Minute Tech Tip (2MTT) video about this topic and article. Oracle 18c Database brings prominent new machine learning algorithms, including Neural Networks and Random Forests. While many articles are available on machine learning, most of them concentrate on how to build a model. Very few talk about how to use these new algorithms in your applications to score or label new data. This article will explain how Neural Networks work, how to build a Neural Network in Oracle Database, and how to use the model to score or label new data. What are Neural Networks? Over the past couple of years, Neural Networks have attracted a lot of attention thanks to their ability to efficiently find patterns in data—traditional transactional data, as well as images, sound, streaming data, etc. But for some implementations, Neural Networks can require a lot of additional computing resources due to the complexity of the many hidden layers within the network. Figure 1 gives a very simple representation of a Neural Network with one hidden layer. All the inputs are connected to a neuron in the hidden layer (red circles). A neuron takes a set of numeric values as input and maps them to a single output value. (A neuron is a simple multi-input linear regression function, where the output is passed through an activation function.) Two common activation functions are logistic and tanh functions. There are many others, including logistic sigmoid function, arctan function, bipolar sigmoid function, etc. Continue reading the rest of the article here.
Machine learning is a very popular topic in recent times, and we keep hearing about languages such as R, Python and Spark. In addition to these we have commercially available machine learning languages and tools from SAS, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Google, Amazon, etc., etc. Everyone want a slice of the machine learning market!
The Apache Foundation supports the development of new open source projects in a number of areas. One such area is machine learning. If you have read anything about machine learning you will have come across Spark, and maybe you might believe that everyone is using it. Sadly this isn’t true for lots of reasons, but it is very popular. Spark is one of the project support by the Apache Foundation.
But are there any other machine learning projects being supported under the Apache Foundation that are an alternative to Spark? The follow lists the alternatives and lessor know projects: (most of these are incubator/retired/graduated Apache projects)
|Flink||Flink is an open source system for expressive, declarative, fast, and efficient data analysis. Stratosphere combines the scalability and programming flexibility of distributed MapReduce-like platforms with the efficiency, out-of-core execution, and query optimization capabilities found in parallel databases. Flink was originally known as Stratosphere when it entered the Incubator.
|HORN||HORN is a neuron-centric programming APIs and execution framework for large-scale deep learning, built on top of Apache Hama.
|HiveMail||Hivemall is a library for machine learning implemented as Hive UDFs/UDAFs/UDTFs
Apache Hivemall offers a variety of functionalities: regression, classification, recommendation, anomaly detection, k-nearest neighbor, and feature engineering. It also supports state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms such as Soft Confidence Weighted, Adaptive Regularization of Weight Vectors, Factorization Machines, and AdaDelta. Apache Hivemall offers a variety of functionalities: regression, classification, recommendation, anomaly detection, k-nearest neighbor, and feature engineering. It also supports state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms such as Soft Confidence Weighted, Adaptive Regularization of Weight Vectors, Factorization Machines, and AdaDelta.
|MADlib||Apache MADlib is an open-source library for scalable in-database analytics. It provides data-parallel implementations of mathematical, statistical and machine learning methods for structured and unstructured data. Key features include: Operate on the data locally in-database. Do not move data between multiple runtime environments unnecessarily; Utilize best of breed database engines, but separate the machine learning logic from database specific implementation details; Leverage MPP shared nothing technology, such as the Greenplum Database and Apache HAWQ (incubating), to provide parallelism and scalability.
|MXNet||A Flexible and Efficient Library for Deep Learning . MXNet provides optimized numerical computation for GPUs and distributed ecosystems, from the comfort of high-level environments like Python and R MXNet automates common workflows, so standard neural networks can be expressed concisely in just a few lines of code.
|OpenNLP||OpenNLP is a machine learning based toolkit for the processing of natural language text. OpenNLP supports the most common NLP tasks, such as tokenization, sentence segmentation, part-of-speech tagging, named entity extraction, chunking, parsing, language detection and coreference resolution.
|PredictionIO||PredictionIO is an open source Machine Learning Server built on top of state-of-the-art open source stack, that enables developers to manage and deploy production-ready predictive services for various kinds of machine learning tasks.
|SAMOA||SAMOA provides a collection of distributed streaming algorithms for the most common data mining and machine learning tasks such as classification, clustering, and regression, as well as programming abstractions to develop new algorithms that run on top of distributed stream processing engines (DSPEs). It features a pluggable architecture that allows it to run on several DSPEs such as Apache Storm, Apache S4, and Apache Samza.
|SINGA||SINGA is a distributed deep learning platform. An intuitive programming model based on the layer abstraction is provided, which supports a variety of popular deep learning models. SINGA architecture supports both synchronous and asynchronous training frameworks. Hybrid training frameworks can also be customized to achieve good scalability. SINGA provides different neural net partitioning schemes for training large models.
|Storm||Storm is a distributed, fault-tolerant, and high-performance realtime computation system that provides strong guarantees on the processing of data. Storm makes it easy to reliably process unbounded streams of data, doing for realtime processing what Hadoop did for batch processing. Storm is simple, can be used with any programming language.
|SystemML||SystemML provides declarative large-scale machine learning (ML) that aims at flexible specification of ML algorithms and automatic generation of hybrid runtime plans ranging from single node, in-memory computations, to distributed computations such as Apache Hadoop MapReduce and Apache Spark.
I will have a closer look that the following SQL based machine learning languages in a lager blog post: