Julia Evans

Is machine learning safe to use?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I do ML at work. here are a few of my current thoughts. I’d like to hear what you think on twitter – I think being responsible for the accuracy of a system that you don’t fully understand is scary/ very interesting.


FIRST: Can you understand your model? A regression with 10 variables is easy; a big random forest isn’t.

A model you don’t understand is

  • awesome. It can perform really well, and you can save time at first by ignoring the details.
  • scary. It will make unpredictable and sometimes embarrassing mistakes. You’re responsible for them.
  • only as good as your data. Often when I train a new model I think at some point “NO PLZ DON’T USE THAT DATA TO MAKE DECISION OH NOOOOO”

Some way to make it less scary:

  • have a human double check the scariest choices
  • use complicated models when it’s okay to make unpredictable mistakes, simple models when it’s less okay
  • use ML for research, learn why it’s doing better, incorporate your findings into a less complex system

An argument for hiring junior developers A millisecond isn't fast (and how we made it 100x faster)