Alibaba’s Neural Network Model Beat the Highest Human Score in Stanford’s Reading Test

Machines getting the better of humans is no longer a surprise. It started with IBM’s Deep Blue program beating Garry Kasparov in a game of chess more than 20 years ago and with the increasing breakthroughs in the world of machine and deep learning, machines continue to become powerful tools. Yesterday, Alibaba developed a model that beat out any human competition in Stanford’s reading comprehension competition. The dataset consists of more than 100,000 questions sourced from more than 500 Wikipedia articles. The purpose of the quiz is to see how long it takes the machine learning models to process all the information, train themselves and then provide precise or accurate answers. Alibaba used a deep learning framework to build a neural network model. It’s based on the “Hierarchical Attention Network”, which according to the company, works by identifying first paragraphs, then sentences and finally words. The underlying technology has been used previously by Alibaba, in it’s AI-powered chatbot – Dian Xiaomi.

Generative Adversarial Networks

In this article, I’ll talk about Generative Adversarial Networks, or GANs for short. GANs are one of the very few machine learning techniques which has given good performance for generative tasks, or more broadly unsupervised learning. In particular, they have given splendid performance for a variety of image generation related tasks. Yann LeCun, one of the forefathers of deep learning, has called them “the best idea in machine learning in the last 10 years”. Most importantly, the core conceptual ideas associated with a GAN are quite simple to understand (and in-fact, you should have a good idea about them by the time you finish reading this article).

Base R can be Fast

“Base R” (call it “Pure R”, “Good Old R”, just don’t call it “Old R” or late for dinner) can be fast for in-memory tasks. This is despite the commonly repeated claim that: “packages written in C/C++ are faster than R code.” The benchmark results of “rquery: Fast Data Manipulation in R” really called out for follow-up timing experiments. This note is one such set of experiments, this time concentrating on in-memory (non-database) solutions.

«smooth» package for R. Common ground. Part III. Exogenous variables. Basic stuff

One of the features of the functions in smooth package is the ability to use exogenous (aka “external”) variables. This potentially leads to the increase in the forecasting accuracy (given that you have a good estimate of the future exogenous variable). For example, in retail this can be a binary variable for promotions and we may know when the next promotion will happen. Or we may have an idea about the temperature for the next day and include it as an exogenous variable in the model. While arima() function from stats package allows inserting exogenous variables, ets() function from forecast package does not. That was one of the original motivations of developing an alternative function for ETS. It is worth noting that all the forecasting functions in smooth package (except for sma()) allow using exogenous variables, so this feature is not restricted with es() only.

Square off: Machine learning libraries

Choosing a machine learning (ML) library to solve predictive use cases is easier said than done. There are many to choose from, and each have their own niche and benefits that are good for specific use cases. Even for someone with decent experience in ML and data science, it can be an ordeal to vet all the varied solutions. Where do you start? At Salesforce Einstein, we have to constantly research the market to stay on top of it. Here are some observations on the top five characteristics of ML libraries that developers should consider when deciding what library to use:

Field Guide to the R Ecosystem

I started working with R around about 5 years ago. Parts of the R world have changed substantially over that time, while other parts remain largely the same. One thing that hasn’t changed however, is that there has never been a simple, high-level text to introduce newcomers to the ecosystem. I believe this is especially important now that the ecosystem has grown so much. It’s no longer enough to just know about R itself. Those working with, or even around R, must now understand the ecosystem as a whole in order to best manage and support its use. Hopefully the Field Guide to the R Ecosystem goes some way towards filling this gap.