Artificial intelligence promises automated decision making that will alleviate and revolutionise the nature of work. In practice, we know from previous technological solutions, new technologies often take time to percolate through to productivity. Robert Solow’s paradox saw “computers everywhere, except in the productivity statistics”. This session will equip attendees with an understanding of how to establish best practices around automated decision making. In particular, we will focus on the raw material of the AI revolution: the data.
Embodiment Factors 
|~100||a billion||a billion|
|embodiment||20 minutes||5 billion years||15 trillion years|
Let me explain what I mean. Claude Shannon introduced a mathematical concept of information for the purposes of understanding telephone exchanges.
Information has many meanings, but mathematically, Shannon defined a bit of information to be the amount of information you get from tossing a coin.
If I toss a coin, and look at it, I know the answer. You don’t. But if I now tell you the answer I communicate to you 1 bit of information. Shannon defined this as the fundamental unit of information.
If I toss the coin twice, and tell you the result of both tosses, I give you two bits of information. Information is additive.
Shannon also estimated the average information associated with the English language. He estimated that the average information in any word is 12 bits, equivalent to twelve coin tosses.
So every two minutes Bauby was able to communicate 12 bits, or six bits per minute.
This is the information transfer rate he was limited to, the rate at which he could communicate.
Compare this to me, talking now. The average speaker for TEDX speaks around 160 words per minute. That’s 320 times faster than Bauby or around a 2000 bits per minute. 2000 coin tosses per minute.
But, just think how much thought Bauby was putting into every sentence. Imagine how carefully chosen each of his words was. Because he was communication constrained he could put more thought into each of his words. Into thinking about his audience.
So, his intelligence became locked in. He thinks as fast as any of us, but can communicate slower. Like the tree falling in the woods with no one there to hear it, his intelligence is embedded inside him.
Two thousand coin tosses per minute sounds pretty impressive, but this talk is not just about us, it’s about our computers, and the type of intelligence we are creating within them.
So how does two thousand compare to our digital companions? When computers talk to each other, they do so with billions of coin tosses per minute.
Let’s imagine for a moment, that instead of talking about communication of information, we are actually talking about money. Bauby would have 6 dollars. I would have 2000 dollars, and my computer has billions of dollars.
The internet has interconnected computers and equipped them with extremely high transfer rates.
However, by our very best estimates, computers actually think slower than us.
How can that be? You might ask, computers calculate much faster than me. That’s true, but underlying your conscious thoughts there are a lot of calculations going on.
Each thought involves many thousands, millions or billions of calculations. How many exactly, we don’t know yet, because we don’t know how the brain turns calculations into thoughts.
Our best estimates suggest that to simulate your brain a computer would have to be as large as the UK Met Office machine here in Exeter. That’s a 250 million pound machine, the fastest in the UK. It can do 16 billion billon calculations per second.
It simulates the weather across the word every day, that’s how much power we think we need to simulate our brains.
So, in terms of our computational power we are extraordinary, but in terms of our ability to explain ourselves, just like Bauby, we are locked in.
For a typical computer, to communicate everything it computes in one second, it would only take it a couple of minutes. For us to do the same would take 15 billion years.
If intelligence is fundamentally about processing and sharing of information. This gives us a fundamental constraint on human intelligence that dictates its nature.
I call this ratio between the time it takes to compute something, and the time it takes to say it, the embodiment factor (Lawrence 2017a). Because it reflects how embodied our cognition is.
If it takes you two minutes to say the thing you have thought in a second, then you are a computer. If it takes you 15 billion years, then you are a human.
Evolved Relationship with Information 
The high bandwidth of computers has resulted in a close relationship between the computer and data. Large amounts of information can flow between the two. The degree to which the computer is mediating our relationship with data means that we should consider it an intermediary.
Originaly our low bandwith relationship with data was affected by two characteristics. Firstly, our tendency to over-interpret driven by our need to extract as much knowledge from our low bandwidth information channel as possible. Secondly, by our improved understanding of the domain of mathematical statistics and how our cognitive biases can mislead us.
With this new set up there is a potential for assimilating far more information via the computer, but the computer can present this to us in various ways. If it’s motives are not aligned with ours then it can misrepresent the information. This needn’t be nefarious it can be simply as a result of the computer pursuing a different objective from us. For example, if the computer is aiming to maximize our interaction time that may be a different objective from ours which may be to summarize information in a representative manner in the shortest possible length of time.
For example, for me, it was a common experience to pick up my telephone with the intention of checking when my next appointment was, but to soon find myself distracted by another application on the phone, and end up reading something on the internet. By the time I’d finished reading, I would often have forgotten the reason I picked up my phone in the first place.
There are great benefits to be had from the huge amount of information we can unlock from this evolved relationship between us and data. In biology, large scale data sharing has been driven by a revolution in genomic, transcriptomic and epigenomic measurement. The improved inferences that that can be drawn through summarizing data by computer have fundamentally changed the nature of biological science, now this phenomenon is also infuencing us in our daily lives as data measured by happenstance is increasingly used to characterize us.
Better mediation of this flow actually requires a better understanding of human-computer interaction. This in turn involves understanding our own intelligence better, what its cognitive biases are and how these might mislead us.
For further thoughts see Guardian article on marketing in the internet era from 2015.
You can also check my blog post on System Zero..
Societal Effects 
We have already seen the effects of this changed dynamic in biology and computational biology. Improved sensorics have led to the new domains of transcriptomics, epigenomics, and ‘rich phenomics’ as well as considerably augmenting our capabilities in genomics.
Biologists have had to become data-savvy, they require a rich understanding of the available data resources and need to assimilate existing data sets in their hypothesis generation as well as their experimental design. Modern biology has become a far more quantitative science, but the quantitativeness has required new methods developed in the domains of computational biology and bioinformatics.
There is also great promise for personalized health, but in health the wide data-sharing that has underpinned success in the computational biology community is much harder to cary out.
We can expect to see these phenomena reflected in wider society. Particularly as we make use of more automated decision making based only on data. This is leading to a requirement to better understand our own subjective biases to ensure that the human to computer interface allows domain experts to assimilate data driven conclusions in a well calibrated manner. This is particularly important where medical treatments are being prescribed. It also offers potential for different kinds of medical intervention. More subtle interventions are possible when the digital environment is able to respond to users in an bespoke manner. This has particular implications for treatment of mental health conditions.
The main phenomenon we see across the board is the shift in dynamic from the direct pathway between human and data, as traditionally mediated by classical statistcs, to a new flow of information via the computer. This change of dynamics gives us the modern and emerging domain of data science, where the interactions between human and data are mediated by the machine.
Lies and Damned Lies 
There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics
Benjamin Disraeli 1804-1881
Benjamin Disraeli said1 that there three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. Disraeli died in 1881, 30 years before the first academic department of applied statistics was founded at UCL. If Disraeli were alive today, it is likely that he’d rephrase his quote:
There are three types of lies, lies damned lies and big data.
Why? Because the challenges of understanding and interpreting big data today are similar to those that Disraeli faced in governing an empire through statistics in the latter part of the 19th century.
The quote lies, damned lies and statistics was credited to Benjamin Disraeli by Mark Twain in his autobiography. It characterizes the idea that statistic can be made to prove anything. But Disraeli died in 1881 and Mark Twain died in 1910. The important breakthrough in overcoming our tendency to overinterpet data came with the formalization of the field through the development of mathematical statistics.
Data has an elusive quality, it promises so much but can deliver little, it can mislead and misrepresent. To harness it, it must be tamed. In Disraeli’s time during the second half of the 19th century, numbers and data were being accumulated, the social sciences were being developed. There was a large scale collection of data for the purposes of government.
The modern ‘big data era’ is on the verge of delivering the same sense of frustration that Disraeli experienced, the early promise of big data as a panacea is evolving to demands for delivery. For me, personally, peak-hype coincided with an email I received inviting collaboration on a project to deploy “Big Data and Internet of Things in an Industry 4.0 environment”. Further questioning revealed that the actual project was optimization of the efficiency of a manufacturing production line, a far more tangible and realizable goal.
The antidote to this verbage is found in increasing awareness. When dealing with data the first trap to avoid is the games of buzzword bingo that we are wont to play. The first goal is to quantify what challenges can be addressed and what techniques are required. Behind the hype fundamentals are changing. The phenomenon is about the increasing access we have to data. The manner in which customers information is recorded and processes are codified and digitized with little overhead. Internet of things is about the increasing number of cheap sensors that can be easily interconnected through our modern network structures. But businesses are about making money, and these phenomena need to be recast in those terms before their value can be realized.
Karl Pearson (1857-1936), Ronald Fisher (1890-1962) and others considered the question of what conclusions can truly be drawn from data. Their mathematical studies act as a restraint on our tendency to over-interpret and see patterns where there are none. They introduced concepts such as randomized control trials that form a mainstay of the our decision making today, from government, to clinicians to large scale A/B testing that determines the nature of the web interfaces we interact with on social media and shopping.
Their movement did the most to put statistics to rights, to eradicate the ‘damned lies’. It was known as ‘mathematical statistics’. Today I believe we should look to the emerging field of data science to provide the same role. Data science is an amalgam of statistics, data mining, computer systems, databases, computation, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Spread across these fields are the tools we need to realize data’s potential. For many businesses this might be thought of as the challenge of ‘converting bits into atoms’. Bits: the data stored on computer, atoms: the physical manifestation of what we do; the transfer of goods, the delivery of service. From fungible to tangible. When solving a challenge through data there are a series of obstacles that need to be addressed.
Firstly, data awareness: what data you have and where its stored. Sometimes this includes changing your conception of what data is and how it can be obtained. From automated production lines to apps on employee smart phones. Often data is locked away: manual log books, confidential data, personal data. For increasing awareness an internal audit can help. The website data.gov.uk hosts data made available by the UK government. To create this website the government’s departments went through an audit of what data they each hold and what data they could make available. Similarly, within private buisnesses this type of audit could be useful for understanding their internal digital landscape: after all the key to any successful campaign is a good map.
Secondly, availability. How well are the data sources interconnected? How well curated are they? The curse of Disraeli was associated with unreliable data and unreliable statistics. The misrepresentations this leads to are worse than the absence of data as they give a false sense of confidence to decision making. Understanding how to avoid these pitfalls involves an improved sense of data and its value, one that needs to permeate the organization.
The final challenge is analysis, the accumulation of the necessary expertise to digest what the data tells us. Data requires intepretation, and interpretation requires experience. Analysis is providing a bottleneck due to a skill shortage, a skill shortage made more acute by the fact that, ideally, analysis should be carried out by individuals not only skilled in data science but also equipped with the domain knowledge to understand the implications in a given application, and to see opportunities for improvements in efficiency.
‘Mathematical Data Science’
As a term ‘big data’ promises much and delivers little, to get true value from data, it needs to be curated and evaluated. The three stages of awareness, availability and analysis provide a broad framework through which organizations should be assessing the potential in the data they hold. Hand waving about big data solutions will not do, it will only lead to self-deception. The castles we build on our data landscapes must be based on firm foundations, process and scientific analysis. If we do things right, those are the foundations that will be provided by the new field of data science.
Today the statement “There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and ‘big data’” may be more apt. We are revisiting many of the mistakes made in interpreting data from the 19th century. Big data is laid down by happenstance, rather than actively collected with a particular question in mind. That means it needs to be treated with care when conclusions are being drawn. For data science to succede it needs the same form of rigour that Pearson and Fisher brought to statistics, a “mathematical data science” is needed.
You can also check my blog post onblog post on Lies, Damned Lies and Big Data..
Artificial Intelligence and Data Science 
Artificial intelligence has the objective of endowing computers with human-like intelligent capabilities. For example, understanding an image (computer vision) or the contents of some speech (speech recognition), the meaning of a sentence (natural language processing) or the translation of a sentence (machine translation).
Supervised Learning for AI
The machine learning approach to artificial intelligence is to collect and annotate a large data set from humans. The problem is characterized by input data (e.g. a particular image) and a label (e.g. is there a car in the image yes/no). The machine learning algorithm fits a mathematical function (I call this the prediction function) to map from the input image to the label. The parameters of the prediction function are set by minimizing an error between the function’s predictions and the true data. This mathematical function that encapsulates this error is known as the objective function.
This approach to machine learning is known as supervised learning. Various approaches to supervised learning use different prediction functions, objective functions or different optimization algorithms to fit them.
For example, deep learning makes use of neural networks to form the predictions. A neural network is a particular type of mathematical function that allows the algorithm designer to introduce invariances into the function.
An invariance is an important way of including prior understanding in a machine learning model. For example, in an image, a car is still a car regardless of whether it’s in the upper left or lower right corner of the image. This is known as translation invariance. A neural network encodes translation invariance in convolutional layers. Convolutional neural networks are widely used in image recognition tasks.
An alternative structure is known as a recurrent neural network (RNN). RNNs neural networks encode temporal structure. They use auto regressive connections in their hidden layers, they can be seen as time series models which have non-linear auto-regressive basis functions. They are widely used in speech recognition and machine translation.
Machine learning has been deployed in Speech Recognition (e.g. Alexa, deep neural networks, convolutional neural networks for speech recognition), in computer vision (e.g. Amazon Go, convolutional neural networks for person recognition and pose detection).
The field of data science is related to AI, but philosophically different. It arises because we are increasingly creating large amounts of data through happenstance rather than active collection. In the modern era data is laid down by almost all our activities. The objective of data science is to extract insights from this data.
Classically, in the field of statistics, data analysis proceeds by assuming that the question (or scientific hypothesis) comes before the data is created. E.g., if I want to determine the effectiveness of a particular drug, I perform a design for my data collection. I use foundational approaches such as randomization to account for confounders. This made a lot of sense in an era where data had to be actively collected. The reduction in cost of data collection and storage now means that many data sets are available which weren’t collected with a particular question in mind. This is a challenge because bias in the way data was acquired can corrupt the insights we derive. We can perform randomized control trials (or A/B tests) to verify our conclusions, but the opportunity is to use data science techniques to better guide our question selection or even answer a question without the expense of a full randomized control trial (referred to as A/B testing in modern internet parlance).
The DeepFace architecture (Taigman et al. 2014) consists of layers that deal with translation and rotational invariances. These layers are followed by three locally-connected layers and two fully-connected layers. Color illustrates feature maps produced at each layer. The neural network includes more than 120 million parameters, where more than 95% come from the local and fully connected layers.
Deep Learning as Pinball 
Sometimes deep learning models are described as being like the brain, or too complex to understand, but one analogy I find useful to help the gist of these models is to think of them as being similar to early pin ball machines.
In a deep neural network, we input a number (or numbers), whereas in pinball, we input a ball.
Think of the location of the ball on the left-right axis as a single number. Our simple pinball machine can only take one number at a time. As the ball falls through the machine, each layer of pins can be thought of as a different layer of ‘neurons’. Each layer acts to move the ball from left to right.
In a pinball machine, when the ball gets to the bottom it might fall into a hole defining a score, in a neural network, that is equivalent to the decision: a classification of the input object.
An image has more than one number associated with it, so it is like playing pinball in a hyper-space.
Learning involves moving all the pins to be in the correct position, so that the ball ends up in the right place when it’s fallen through the machine. But moving all these pins in hyperspace can be difficult.
In a hyper-space you have to put a lot of data through the machine for to explore the positions of all the pins. Even when you feed many millions of data points through the machine, there are likely to be regions in the hyper-space where no ball has passed. When future test data passes through the machine in a new route unusual things can happen.
Adversarial examples exploit this high dimensional space. If you have access to the pinball machine, you can use gradient methods to find a position for the ball in the hyper space where the image looks like one thing, but will be classified as another.
Probabilistic methods explore more of the space by considering a range of possible paths for the ball through the machine. This helps to make them more data efficient and gives some robustness to adversarial examples.
Post Digital Transformation 
Operations Research, Control, Econometrics, Statistics and Machine Learning 
data + model is not new, it dates back to Laplace and Gauss. Gauss fitted the orbit of Ceres using Keplers laws of planetary motion to generate his basis functions, and Laplace’s insights on the error function and uncertainty (Stigler 1999). Different fields such as Operations Research, Control, Econometrics, Statistics, Machine Learning and now Data Science and AI all rely on data + model. Under a Popperian view of science, and equating experiment to data, one could argue that all science has data + model underpinning it.
Different academic fields are born in different eras, driven by different motivations and arrive at different solutions. For example, both Operations Research and Control emerged from the Second World War. Operations Research, the science of decision making, driven by the need for improved logistics and supply chain. Control emerged from cybernetics, a field that was driven in the by researchers who had been involved in radar and decryption (Wiener 1948; Husband, Holland, and Wheeler 2008). The UK artificial intelligence community had similar origins (Copeland 2006).
The separation between these fields has almost become tribal, and from one perspective this can be very helpful. Each tribe can agree on a common language, a common set of goals and a shared understanding of the approach they’ve chose for those goals. This ensures that best practice can be developed and shared and as a result, quality standards can rise.
This is the nature of our professions. Medics, lawyers, engineers and accountants all have a system of shared best practice that they deploy efficiently in the resolution of a roughly standardized set of problems where they deploy (broken leg, defending a libel trial, bridging a river, ensuring finances are correct).
Control, statistics, economics, operations research are all established professions. Techniques are established, often at undergraduate level, and graduation to the profession is regulated by professional bodies. This system works well as long as the problems we are easily categorized and mapped onto the existing set of known problems.
However, at another level our separate professions of OR, statistics and control engineering are just different views on the same problem. Just as any tribe of humans need to eat and sleep, so do these professions depend on data, modelling, optimization and decision-making.
We are doing something that has never been done before, optimizing and evolving very large-scale automated decision making networks. The ambition to scale and automate, in a data driven manner, means that a tribal approach to problem solving can hinder our progress. Any tribe of hunter gatherers would struggle to understand the operation of a modern city. Similarly, supply chain needs to develop cross-functional skill sets to address the modern problems we face, not the problems that were formulated in the past.
Many of the challenges we face are at the interface between our tribal expertise. We have particular cost functions we are trying to minimize (an expertise of OR) but we have large scale feedbacks in our system (an expertise of control). We also want our systems to be adaptive to changing circumstances, to perform the best action given the data available (an expertise of machine learning and statistics).
Taking the tribal analogy further, we could imagine each of our professions as a separate tribe of hunter-gathers, each with particular expertise (e.g. fishing, deer hunting, trapping). Each of these tribes has their own approach to eating to survive, just as each of our localized professions has its own approach to modelling. But in this analogy, the technological landscapes we face are not wildernesses, they are emerging metropolises. Our new task is to feed our population through a budding network of supermarkets. While we may be sourcing our food in the same way, this requires new types of thinking that don’t belong in the pure domain of any of our existing tribes.
For our biggest challenges, focusing on the differences between these fields is unhelpful, we should consider their strengths and how they overlap. Fundamentally all these fields are focused on taking the right action given the information available to us. They need to work in synergy for us to make progress.
While there is some discomfort in talking across field boundaries, it is critical to disconfirming our current beliefs and generating the new techniques we need to address the challenges before us.
Recommendation: We should be aware of the limitations of a single tribal view of any of our problem sets. Where our modelling is dominated by one perspective (e.g. economics, OR, control, ML) we should ensure cross fertilization of ideas occurs through scientific review and team rotation mechanisms that embed our scientists (for a short period) in different teams across our organizations.
Areas of Good Data 
Criteria for Success
- Executive sponsorship (Office of CEO).
- Technical Expertise (Open minded expert).
- Financial buy in (CFO).
- Assimilated knownledge (CTO).
Data Readiness Levels 
Data Readiness Levels (Lawrence 2017b) are an attempt to develop a language around data quality that can bridge the gap between technical solutions and decision makers such as managers and project planners. The are inspired by Technology Readiness Levels which attempt to quantify the readiness of technologies for deployment.
See this blog onblog post on Data Readiness Levels..
Three Grades of Data Readiness 
Data-readiness describes, at its coarsest level, three separate stages of data graduation.
- Grade C - accessibility
- Transition: data becomes electronically available
- Grade B - validity
- Transition: pose a question to the data.
- Grade A - usability
The important definitions are at the transition. The move from Grade C data to Grade B data is delimited by the electronic availability of the data. The move from Grade B to Grade A data is delimited by posing a question or task to the data (Lawrence 2017b).
Recommendation: Build a shared understanding of the language of data readiness levels for use in planning documents and costing of data cleaning and the benefits of reusing cleaned data.
Move Beyond Software Engineering to Data Engineering
Thirdly, we need to improve our mental model of the separation of data science from applied science. A common trap in our thinking around data is to see data science (and data engineering, data preparation) as a sub-set of the software engineer’s or applied scientist’s skill set. As a result, we recruit and deploy the wrong type of resource. Data preparation and question formulation is superficially similar to both because of the need for programming skills, but the day to day problems faced are very different.
Normal Organisational Rules Apply
- AI is not magical pixie dust
- Standard organisational instincts apply
- Disruption requires agile thinking.
- Don’t be the Duke of York
- Be Special Forces
Copeland, B. Jack, ed. 2006. Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park’s Code-Breaking Computers. Oxford University Press.
Husband, Phil, Owen Holland, and Michael Wheeler, eds. 2008. The Mechanical Mind in History. mit.
Lawrence, Neil D. 2017a. “Living Together: Mind and Machine Intelligence.” arXiv. https://arxiv.org/abs/1705.07996.
———. 2017b. “Data Readiness Levels.” arXiv.
Stigler, Stephen M. 1999. Statistics on the Table: The History of Statistical Concepts and Methods. Cambridge, MA: harvard.
Taigman, Yaniv, Ming Yang, Marc’Aurelio Ranzato, and Lior Wolf. 2014. “DeepFace: Closing the Gap to Human-Level Performance in Face Verification.” In Proceedings of the IEEE Computer Society Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition. https://doi.org/10.1109/CVPR.2014.220.
Wiener, Norbert. 1948. Cybernetics: Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.