3 Questions: Kalyan Veeramachaneni on hurdles preventing fully automated machine learning

The proliferation of big data across domains, from banking to health care to environmental monitoring, has spurred increasing demand for machine learning tools that help organizations make decisions based on the data they gather.

That growing industry demand has driven researchers to explore the possibilities of automated machine learning (AutoML), which seeks to automate the development of machine learning solutions in order to make them accessible for nonexperts, improve their efficiency, and accelerate machine learning research. For example, an AutoML system might enable doctors to use their expertise interpreting electroencephalography (EEG) results to build a model that can predict which patients are at higher risk for epilepsy — without requiring the doctors to have a background in data science.

Yet, despite more than a decade of work, researchers have been unable to fully automate all steps in the machine learning development process. Even the most efficient commercial AutoML systems still require a prolonged back-and-forth between a domain expert, like a marketing manager or mechanical engineer, and a data scientist, making the process inefficient.

Kalyan Veeramachaneni, a principal research scientist in the MIT Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems who has been studying AutoML since 2010, has co-authored a paper in the journal ACM Computing Surveys that details a seven-tiered schematic to evaluate AutoML tools based on their level of autonomy.

A system at level zero has no automation and requires a data scientist to start from scratch and build models by hand, while a tool at level six is completely automated and can be easily and effectively used by a nonexpert. Most commercial systems fall somewhere in the middle.

Veeramachaneni spoke with MIT News about the current state of AutoML, the hurdles that prevent truly automatic machine learning systems, and the road ahead for AutoML researchers.

Q: How has automatic machine learning evolved over the past decade, and what is the current state of AutoML systems?


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