Linear Digressions
Linear Digressions
Ben Jaffe and Katie Malone
Linear Digressions is a podcast about machine learning and data science. Machine learning is being used to solve a ton of interesting problems, and to accomplish goals that were out of reach even a few short years ago.
So long, and thanks for all the fish
All good things must come to an end, including this podcast. This is the last episode we plan to release, and it doesn’t cover data science—it’s mostly reminiscing, thanking our wonderful audience (that’s you!), and marveling at how this thing that started out as a side project grew into a huge part of our lives for over 5 years. It’s been a ride, and a real pleasure and privilege to talk to you each week. Thanks, best wishes, and good night! —Katie and Ben
Jul 26, 2020
35 min
A Reality Check on AI-Driven Medical Assistants
The data science and artificial intelligence community has made amazing strides in the past few years to algorithmically automate portions of the healthcare process. This episode looks at two computer vision algorithms, one that diagnoses diabetic retinopathy and another that classifies liver cancer, and asks the question—are patients now getting better care, and achieving better outcomes, with these algorithms in the mix? The answer isn’t no, exactly, but it’s not a resounding yes, because these algorithms interact with a very complex system (the healthcare system) and other shortcomings of that system are proving hard to automate away. Getting a faster diagnosis from an image might not be an improvement if the image is now harder to capture (because of strict data quality requirements associated with the algorithm that wouldn’t stop a human doing the same job). Likewise, an algorithm getting a prediction mostly correct might not be an overall benefit if it introduces more dramatic failures when the prediction happens to be wrong. For every data scientist whose work is deployed into some kind of product, and is being used to solve real-world problems, these papers underscore how important and difficult it is to consider all the context around those problems.
Jul 19, 2020
14 min
A Data Science Take on Open Policing Data
A few weeks ago, we put out a call for data scientists interested in issues of race and racism, or people studying how those topics can be studied with data science methods, should get in touch to come talk to our audience about their work. This week we’re excited to bring on Todd Hendricks, Bay Area data scientist and a volunteer who reached out to tell us about his studies with the Stanford Open Policing dataset.
Jul 12, 2020
23 min
Procella: YouTube's super-system for analytics data storage
This is a re-release of an episode that originally ran in October 2019. If you’re trying to manage a project that serves up analytics data for a few very distinct uses, you’d be wise to consider having custom solutions for each use case that are optimized for the needs and constraints of that use cases. You also wouldn’t be YouTube, which found themselves with this problem (gigantic data needs and several very different use cases of what they needed to do with that data) and went a different way: they built one analytics data system to serve them all. Procella, the system they built, is the topic of our episode today: by deconstructing the system, we dig into the four motivating uses of this system, the complexity they had to introduce to service all four uses simultaneously, and the impressive engineering that has to go into building something that “just works.”
Jul 5, 2020
29 min
The Data Science Open Source Ecosystem
Open source software is ubiquitous throughout data science, and enables the work of nearly every data scientist in some way or another. Open source projects, however, are disproportionately maintained by a small number of individuals, some of whom are institutionally supported, but many of whom do this maintenance on a purely volunteer basis. The health of the data science ecosystem depends on the support of open source projects, on an individual and institutional level.
Jun 28, 2020
23 min
Rock the ROC Curve
This is a re-release of an episode that first ran on January 29, 2017. This week: everybody's favorite WWII-era classifier metric! But it's not just for winning wars, it's a fantastic go-to metric for all your classifier quality needs.
Jun 21, 2020
15 min
Criminology and Data Science
This episode features Zach Drake, a working data scientist and PhD candidate in the Criminology, Law and Society program at George Mason University. Zach specializes in bringing data science methods to studies of criminal behavior, and got in touch after our last episode (about racially complicated recidivism algorithms). Our conversation covers a wide range of topics—common misconceptions around race and crime statistics, how methodologically-driven criminology scholars think about building crime prediction models, and how to think about policy changes when we don’t have a complete understanding of cause and effect in criminology. For the many of us currently re-thinking race and criminal justice, but wanting to be data-driven about it, this conversation with Zach is a must-listen.
Jun 14, 2020
30 min
Racism, the criminal justice system, and data science
As protests sweep across the United States in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, we take a moment to dig into one of the ways that data science perpetuates and amplifies racism in the American criminal justice system. COMPAS is an algorithm that claims to give a prediction about the likelihood of an offender to re-offend if released, based on the attributes of the individual, and guess what: it shows disparities in the predictions for black and white offenders that would nudge judges toward giving harsher sentences to black individuals. We dig into this algorithm a little more deeply, unpacking how different metrics give different pictures into the “fairness” of the predictions and what is causing its racially disparate output (to wit: race is explicitly not an input to the algorithm, and yet the algorithm gives outputs that correlate with race—what gives?) Unfortunately it’s not an open-and-shut case of a tuning parameter being off, or the wrong metric being used: instead the biases in the justice system itself are being captured in the algorithm outputs, in such a way that a self-fulfilling prophecy of harsher treatment for black defendants is all but guaranteed. Like many other things this week, this episode left us thinking about bigger, systemic issues, and why it’s proven so hard for years to fix what’s broken.
Jun 7, 2020
31 min
An interstitial word from Ben
A message from Ben around algorithmic bias, and how our models are sometimes reflections of ourselves.
Jun 4, 2020
5 min
Convolutional Neural Networks
This is a re-release of an episode that originally aired on April 1, 2018 If you've done image recognition or computer vision tasks with a neural network, you've probably used a convolutional neural net. This episode is all about the architecture and implementation details of convolutional networks, and the tricks that make them so good at image tasks.
May 31, 2020
21 min
Load more