Three obstacles in data science and one vision

20. March, 2019

For the current development- and exploration process in data science three obstacles in particular appear as outstanding hurdles, when it comes up to realize projects - and even more, when it comes up to venture collaborations.

Some years ago - in the early 2010s - when Google’s TensorFlow still was only an idea and Geoffrey Hinton’s daredevil Science Article still only received a bunch of citations, the undisputed technical issues in data science were the absence of computing power and the absence of a common play ground. Of course, during the last decade, NVIDIA and Google respectively stepped into the breach with CUDA and TensorFlow / Keras. So the question arises “What are today’s foremost technical obstacles in data science?”.

#1: The Plug Jumble

Data scientists are concerned with the analysis of statistical samples. A large part of the resources, however, often falls on the integration and mapping of data sources into appropriate data analysis formats. Moreover this task frequently turns out as an unappreciated and frustrating job, that neither belongs to system administration nor to data science. In particular for collaborations with different or changing operational data landscapes, the additional efforts can become a permanent and critical factor, that impedes the advance of projects.

Vivid DB unifies various data sources into a common data interface
Vivid DB unifies various data sources into a common data interface

We want to solve this issue with Vivid DB, a universal data mapper, that mediates between data analysis and data sources. On the data analysis side, Vivid DB supports many de-facto standards like NumPy-Arrays and R-Tables. On the backend-side Vivid DB aims to support a large variety of different data sources that appear in the wild. This comprises a broad selection of SQL-Databases (IBM Db2, Oracle Database, SAP HANA, Microsoft SQL, MySQL, Postgresql, …), assorted NoSQL Databases, flat-file-Databases like CSV and R-Table exports, as well as assorted laboratory measurement devices.

#2: Paper Bottlenecks

The development- and exploration process in data science heavily depends on the ability to adapt current cutting-edge approaches. This ability, however, frequently is impaired by the detour experienced by publications in paper form: Due to the limited space, the provided pseudo code often loses valuable details over the original algorithm. But also if the original algorithm is provided online, it can take tremendous efforts to properly identify it’s scope and adapt it to the underlying prerequisites - only to decide about it’s suitability!

Resolution of abstract code requests by currently best fitting algorithms, using a self contained cluster of multiple Vivid Stores
Resolution of abstract code requests by currently best fitting algorithms, using a self contained cluster of multiple Vivid Stores

Our approach to this obstacle is Vivid Store - a smart algorithm repository, which enforces unified interfaces for different algorithm categories. This allows an automatically evaluation and comparison of the hosted algorithms with respect to different applied data types and evaluation metrices. On this basis Vivid Store is able to determine currently best fitting algorithms with respect to the algorithm category, the used data type and the evaluation metric. This information is stored in evaluation tables, that can be requested by clients and other Vivid Stores. This makes it possible, to interconnect the individual stores of different organizations and therefore to provide an entirely new level of collaboration!

#3: Riding Dead Horses

Due to the rapid advances in data science data analysis applications like in no other domain suffer of short code lifetimes. This follows from the simple rule, that products only survive as long as they remain competitive. And once the zenith has been reached, the law of happy hunting grounds applies:

When you’re riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to get off!

Wisdom of the Dakota Indians

So the question arises, how data analysis projects can be kept competitive without the permanent binding of valuable resources!?

Processing of data analysis flows using Vivid Node
Processing of data analysis flows using Vivid Node

Our answer to this issue is the rapid prototyping system Vivid Node, which separates the program flow of data analysis applications from their used algorithms. However, Vivid Node is not only a rapid prototyping system, but indeed takes the idea a large step beyond, by the integration of cloud-based automatic algorithm and model selection. The fundamental observation behind this approach is, that it is almost never required to use a specific algorithm or model but only one that does the job - so why not simply use the best one, that’s currently available?

The Vision: Vivid Code

In order to use currently best fitting algorithms any Vivid Node instance communicates with one or many connected Vivid Store instances. The communication is initiated with an EVALUATION REQUEST for any connected Vivid Store. This request comprises (E1) an Algorithm Category, (E2) the used Data Type and (E3) the applied Evaluation Metric. Thereupon the connected Vivid Stores respectively use their evaluation lookup tables to respond to this request with an CODE OFFER. This includes the above given information, as well as (O1) an Evaluation Score and (O2) an Algorithm ID, which identifies the algorithm within the Store. The collection of all offers received by Vivid Node within a pre-defined time window are ranked by their evaluation scores.

Thereupon the highest ranked code offers are looked up in a local algorithm cache, by using the combination of the domain name of the store and the algorithm id. If this combination, however, could not be found, Vivid Node creates a CODE REQUEST to the respective store, which includes (C1) the Algorithm ID and (C2) a cryptographic token, that identifies the user. Finally, the transaction is finished, when the store responds to the code request with a CODE ANSWER. This answer depends on the authorization of the user: If the user is unknown or not allowed to receive the algorithm, the answer is constituted by (A1) the Algorithm ID and a respective (A2) Error Notification Flag. If the user, however is authorized the error flag is empty and the answer also comprises (A3) the encoded algorithm.

At this point the idea of “currently best fitting” should be quite clear. The above description, however, conceals one essential detail that is necessary to share code between different organizations: For any instance and any collaboration partner, the algorithms of a given category are required to use the same data interface to be interchangeable! At this point, Vivid DB as a universal data mapper joins the team. Vivid Nodes as well as Vivid Stores use Vivid DB to connect to data sources. This allows collaborating organizations to share (or to offer) algorithms and code without the need to share data! Together the three components constitute the Vivid Code framework.

Chances and Applications

For enterprises the incorporation of customer and market information is getting more important. Consequently many enterprises extend their analytical tools in market research and decision support by business intelligence software. Usually, there are two options for the implementation of such projects: In house development and outsourcing by consultants. On closer perspective, however, it becomes apparent that both approaches share a common weakness of individual software: The high TCO. The Vivid Code framework provides a third option by minimizing the TCO through the synergy effects of automated collaborative data science. This allows to minimize the TCO of data analysis projects while keeping them state-of-the-art.

Collaboration between different organizations using the Vivid Code framework
Collaboration between different organizations using the Vivid Code framework

As a data scientist imagine the following situation: The new postgraduate in your workgroup just released a gradient descent that outperforms the one you wrote some years ago by far. The bad news, however, is that nearly any single application in your lab uses your old algorithm. So the basic benefits of the Vivid Code framework in this situation should be quite clear: All your application automatically use the new algorithm. But now, let’s get one step beyond and imagine that your workgroup is interconnected with the algorithm catalogs of many other workgroups… To be quite honest: Personally this picture gives me the creeps.