Herb Roitblat On Machine Learning: It Depends

Machine learning still stands on the three core features of representation, assessment, and optimization.  As a result, many machine learning systems tend to return approximately the same results.  Given a choice between more clever algorithms and better quality training data, it is often preferable to spend the effort on better data.

Editor’s Note: A widely recognized expert in search and retrieval technology, Dr. Herb Roitblat shares explanations and thoughts on machine learning in this new article extract from his eDiscovery Science blog.

Extract from article by Herbert L. Roitblat, Ph.D.

Machine learning still stands on the three core features of representation, assessment, and optimization.  As a result, many machine learning systems tend to return approximately the same results.  Given a choice between more clever algorithms and better quality training data, it is often preferable to spend the effort on better data.

Particularly in the context of categorizing documents, the machine learning algorithm makes little difference to the ultimate outcome of the project.  The same algorithm can lead to good results or to bad results, depending on how it is used.  We had a project, for example, in which several very similar datasets were to be categorized.  Each set was handled by a different attorney who was to provide the training.  One attorney paid close attention to the problem, worked at making consistent decisions, and selected the training examples over a few days.  The system did really well on this set.  The other attorneys did their work to select training documents less systematically selecting only a few documents per day, with several days in between.  The very same system did poorly on these sets.

To summarize: Learning algorithms, particularly those involved in document categorization all work to maximize the probability that a document will be categorized correctly given its content.  The tools that machine learning provides to accomplish this are to adjust the importance of the document elements (for example, the words, or whatever representation is used).  Methods differ in how they represent the documents and this difference can be critically important.  The quality, primarily, the consistency, of the training examples is also a critically important part of machine learning.  It does not much matter how these documents are selected, provided that the examples are representative of those that need to be categorized, that they are consistently coded, and that the coding represents the actual desired code for each one.

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