Error Analysis to your Rescue – Lessons from Andrew Ng, part 3

The last entry in a series of posts about Andrew Ng's lessons on strategies to follow when fixing errors in your algorithm

Welcome to the third chapter of ML lessons from Ng’s experience! Yes, this one is the continuation of the series entirely based on a recent course by Andrew Ng on Coursera. Although this post can be an independent learning, reading the previous two articles will only help understand this one better. Here are the links to the first and second articles in the series. Let’s get started!

When trying to solve a new machine learning problem (one which does not have too many online resources available already), Andrew Ng advises to build you first system real quick and then iterate on it. Build a model and then iteratively identify the errors and keep on fixing them. How to find errors and how to approach fixing them? Right when you are thinking this, Error Analysis appears in a huge robe, with long beard tuck under his belt, wearing half-moon glasses and says -

‘It is the errors, Harry, that show us what our model truly is, far more than the accuracy’



Why Error Analysis?

When building a new machine learning model, you should try and follow these steps -

Set Target: Set-up development/test set and select an evaluation metric to measure performance (Refer first article)

Build an initial model quickly:

1. Train using training set — Fit the parameters
2. Development set — Tune the parameters
3. Test set — Assess the performance

Prioritize Next Steps:

1. Use Bias and Variance Analysis to deal with underfitting and overfitting (see second article)
2. Analyse what is causing the error and fix them until you have the required model ready!

Manually examining mistakes that your algorithm is making can give you insights into what to do next. This process is called error analysis. Take for example, you built a cat classifier showing 10% test error and one of your colleagues pointed out that your algorithm was misclassifying dog images as cats. Should you try to make your cat classifier do better on dogs?

Which Error to Fix?

Well, rather than spending a few months doing this, only to risk finding out at the end that it wasn’t that helpful, here’s an error analysis procedure that can let you very quickly tell whether or not this could be worth your effort.

1. Get ~100 mislabeled dev set examples
2. Count up how many are dogs
3. If you only have 5% dog pictures and you solve this problem completely, your error will only go down from 10% to 9.5%, max!
4. If, in contrast, you have 50% dog pictures, you can be more optimistic about improving your error and hopefully reduce it from 10% to 5%

This is how you evaluate single idea of error fixing. In a similar fashion, you can evaluate multiple ideas by creating a grid and selecting the idea that best improves the performance -



The conclusion of this process gives you an estimate of how worthwhile it will be to work on each of these different categories of errors. For example, clearly here, a lot of mistakes we made were on blurry images followed by great cat images. This gives you a sense of the best option/s to pursue.

It also tells you, that no matter how much better you do on dog images, or on Instagram images, you at most improve performance by 8%, or 20%. So, depending on how many ideas you have for improving performance on great cats, or blurry images, you could pick one of the two, or if you have enough personnel on your team, maybe you can have two different teams work on each of these independently.

Now, if during the model building, you identify that your data has some incorrectly labelled data points, what should you do?

Incorrectly labelled data

Training set correction

Deep learning algorithms are quite robust to random errors in the training set. As long as the errors are unintentional and quite random, it’s okay to not invest too much time in fixing them. Take for example, a few mislabeled dog images in the training set of our cat classifier.

However! However, deep learning algorithms are not robust to systematic errors, say, if you have all white dog images labeled as cat, your classifier will learn this pattern.

Dev/Test set correction

You can also choose to do error analysis on Dev /Test set to see what percentage of them are mislabeled and if it is worth fixing them. If your dev set error is 10% and you have 0.5% error here due to mislabeled dev set images then, in this case, it is probably not a very good use of your time to try to fix them. But instead, if you have 2% dev set error and 0.5% error here is due to mislabeled dev set, then in such cases, it is wise to fix them because it amounts for 25% of your total error.

You might choose to just fix the training set and not the dev/test set for mislabeled images. In such cases, remember that now, your train set and dev/test set both come from a slightly different distribution. And that is okay. Let’s talk about how to handle such situations where training set and dev/test set come from different distributions

Mismatched Training and Dev/Test Set

Training and Testing on different distributions

Suppose you are building an app that classifies cats from the images clicked by users. You have data from two sources now. First is 200,000 high resolution images from the web and second is 10,000 unprofessional/blurry images on the app, clicked by the users.

Now, to have same distribution for train and dev/test set, you can shuffle the images from both the sources and randomly distribute between both the groups. In this case, however, your dev set will only have ~200 images from the mobile users in a pool of 2500 images. This will optimise your algorithm to do well on web images. But, an ideal selection of dev/test set is to have them so as to reflect data you expect to get in the future and consider important to do well on.

What we can do here is, have all images in dev/test set come from mobile users and put the remaining images from mobile users in the train set along with the web images. This will cause inconsistent distribution in train and dev/test set but it will let you hit where you intend to in the long run.

Bias and Variance with mismatched data distributions

When the training set is from a different distribution than the development and test sets, the method to analyze bias and variance changes. You can no longer call the error between train and dev set as variance for obvious reasons (they are already coming from different distributions). What you can do here to analyse actual variance is define a Training / Dev set which will have same distribution as training set but will not be used for training. You can then analyse your model as shown in the figure below




Understand the application of your machine learning algorithm, collect data accordingly and split train/dev/test sets randomly. Come up with a single optimizing evaluation metric and tune your knobs to improve on this metric. Use Bias/Variance analysis to understand if your model is overfitting or underfitting or is working just fine there. Hop on to error analysis, identify fixing which one helps the most and finally, work to set your model right!

This was the last post in the series. Thanks for reading! Hope it helped you deal with your errors better.

If you have any questions/suggestions, please feel free to reach out with your comments here or connect with me on LinkedIn/Twitter

Original. Reposted with permission.