Sunday, 25 December 2016

Making a dent in machine learning, or how to play a fast ball game

Neil Lawrence had an interesting observation about the current state of machine learning, and linked it to fast ball games:
“[…] the dynamics of the game will evolve. In the long run, the right way of playing football is to position yourself intelligently and to wait for the ball to come to you. You’ll need to run up and down a bit, either to respond to how the play is evolving or to get out of the way of the scrum when it looks like it might flatten you.”
Neil Lawrence is known for his work in Gaussian Processes and is a proponent of data efficiency. He used to be professor at University of Sheffield, is now with Amazon. Apparently the strategy works. The ball has come to him.

I once heard about a professor who said he would come to top conferences just to learn what others were busy doing and tried to do something else.

I also read somewhere from a top physicist that students who applied to work with him often expressed the wish to study shiny-and-clean fields. Some other fields were too messy and seemed unsexy. The professor insisted that the messy fields were exactly the best to work on.

In "Letters to a young scientist", Edward Osborne Wilson told his life story. He spent his entire life cataloging ants since childhood, right at the time where ant ecology wasn't a shiny field. He is considered as father of biodiversity.

Wonder what to do in deep learning now?

It is an extremely fast ball game with thousands of top players. You will be either crushed with ideas being stolen weekly, or out of steam pretty quickly.

It looks like most of the low hanging fruits have been picked.

Then ask yourself, what is your unique position? What are your strengths and advantages that people do not have? Can you move faster than others? It may be by having access to data, access to expertise in the neighborhood, or borrowing angles outside the field. Sometimes digging up old ideas is highly beneficial, too.

Alternatively, just calm down, and do boring-but-important stuffs. Important problems are like the goal areas in ball games. The ball will surely come.

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