Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Power of Prescience: Achieving Lift with Predictive Analytics

I'll be participating in the DM Radio broadcast tomorrow, The Power of Prescience: Achieving Lift with Predictive Analytics Thursday, Feb 23 at 3pm ET. The best practices that we will be discussing include:
1) properly define the problem to be solved (don’t shoot in the dark); 2) identify a key target variable to predict (must be a good decision-making metric in the company); 3) determine what “good” means, success-wise (what is the baseline for success?); 4) identify the appropriate data that can aid in prediction. There’s also: 5) finding the right algorithms, but this doesn’t matter unless 1-4 are nailed.

I also plan on talking about the importance of proper perspective in building models. While we want predictive models to be good, even excellent, but in the end, we need the models to improve decision-making over what is done currently. I'm not advocating low expectations, just reasonable expectations.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Judgement of Watson: Mathematics Wins!

Tom Davenport argues in this HBR article Why I'm Pulling for Watson - Tom Davenport - Harvard Business Review that
I want Watson to win. Why? It's elementary: my dear Watson is a triumph of human ingenuity. In other words, there is no way humans can lose this competition. Watson also illustrates that the knowledge, judgment, and insights of the smartest humans can be embedded into automated systems. I suspect that those automated systems will ultimately be used to make better decisions in many domains, and interact with humans in a much more intelligent way. If computers can persuade Alex Trebek that they're very smart—and that's what he said about Watson—they'll be able to interact effectively with almost any human with a problem to solve.

While this is true, I don't agree that Watson itself is using "judgement" or "making decisions". It appears to me that it is a very nice search engine that incorporates NLP to make these searches more relevant. It isn't giving opinions, synthesizing information to create innovative ideas, or making inferences through extrapolation, all things humans do on a regular basis. This has long been one of my complaints about the way neural networks were described: they "learn", they "think", they "make inferences". No, they are a nonlinear function that finds weights via gradient descent searches. The no more "learn" than logistic regression "learns".

A lot of the hype gets back to the old "hard AI" vs. "soft AI" debates that have been going on for decades. I appreciated very much the book by Roger Penrose on this subject, Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness.

This isn't to minimize the incredible feat IBM has accomplished with Watson, or on a simpler level, the feats of decision-making that can be performed with nonlinear mathematics in neural networks or support vector machines. These are phenomenal accomplishments that are awe inspiring mathematically, and on a more practical level will assist us all in the future with improved ability to automate decision-making. Of course, these kinds of decisions are those that do not require innovation or judgement, but can be codified mathematically. Every time I check out at an automatic teller at Home Depot, deposit checks at an ATM, or even make an amazon purchase, I'm reminded of the depth of technology that makes these complex transactions simple to the user. Watson is the beginning of the next leap in this ongoing technological march forward, all created by enterprising humans who have been able to break down complex behavior into repeatable, reliable, and flexible algorithmic steps.

In the end, I agree with Mr. Davenport, "So whether the humans or Watson win, it means that humans have come out on top."

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Predictive Analytics Innovation

The Predictive Analytics Summit, a relative newcomer to the Predictive Analytics conference circuit, will be held in San Diego on Feb 24-25. At the first Summit in San Francisco last Fall, I enjoyed several of the talks and the networking. This time I will be presenting a fraud detection case study.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Webinar with James Taylor -- 10 Best Practices in Operational Analytics

I'll be presenting a webinar with James Taylor this Wednesday at 10AM PST entitled "10 best practices in operational analytics".
One of the most powerful ways to apply advanced analytics is by putting them to work in operational systems. Using analytics to improve the way every transaction, every customer, every website visitor is handled is tremendously effective. The multiplicative effect means that even small analytic improvements add up to real business benefit.

In this session James Taylor, CEO of Decision Management Solutions, and Dean Abbott of Abbott Analytics will provide you with 10 best practices to make sure you can effectively build and deploy analytic models into you operational systems.