7.2 Gather data

Gathering data is one of the key aspects of an ML project with three main questions:

Two fundamental questions:

  • How much data is necessary?

  • Which data is useful?

  • What kind of data can be used?

For the first question there are no clear answers, for the second the are plenty of methods to decide whether data is useful or not.

As for the question about the kind of data which can be used, lets get some inspiration in the next section

7.2.1 What kind of data can be used?

7.2.2 How much data is necessary?

There are a number of rules of thumb out there like

Rules of thumb:

  • For regression analysis
    • 10 times as many samples than parameters
  • For image recognition
    • 1000 samples per category
    • can go down significantly using pre-trained models

but those rules a just a rough guidance since there are plenty of factors influencing the data needed

Factors influencing data requirement:

  • model complexity
  • similarity of data
    • the higher the similarity the less new samples help
  • noise on data
  • more samples
    • more computational effort
    • for trees might be counterproductive

Sometimes it is easy to create data. When Ayers was thinking about the title of his new book he targeted Google Ads, each with a different title. He got 250,000 samples related to which ad was clicked on most (Ayres 2007).

During model training it might become obvious that we run into overfitting, that is the case when training error gets smaller and at the same time the validation error goes up or when the validation error is much higher than the training error.

Overfitting as indicator for not enough data:

  • Validation error is much higher than training error
  • Validation error increase with training cycles
  • Model memorizes dat but doesn’t generalise Dealing with small data TBC

Recent advances in ML reduce the amount of data needed to build meaningful model. Promising concepts presented at https://www.industryweek.com/technology-and-iiot/digital-tools/article/21122846/making-ai-work-with-small-data are listed below.

Concepts to deal with small data:Smiley face

  • Synthetic data generation
    • synthesize novel images that are difficult to collect in real life.
    • using GANs, variational autoencoders, and data augmentation
  • Transfer learning
    • using pre-trained model
    • add reduced training to specific task
  • Self-supervised learning see chapter 8.1.1
    • creating labeled data automatically,e.g. masks words in sentence
  • Anomaly detection
    • model sees zero examples of defect and only examples of OK samples
    • algorithm flags anything that deviates significantly from the OK as a potential problem.
  • Human-in-the-loop
    • start with higher error system
    • if confidence is low \(\implies\) show to human expert
    • over time model will become better

7.2.3 Which data is useful?

Ideally only data which explain the output are fed into a model. But there might be features which are not known to be of importance. On the other hand there might be features which are overrated as to the importance they have for the output. Anyhow, both can only be known after a model is build. Also, it might be that a feature is valuable for one model but not so much for another model.

Data useful?:

  • Could be detected during exploratory data analysis see chapter 7.3
  • Has to be tested with model
  • Importance can be model dependent
  • Not helpful features cause
    • performance drop
    • more complex models

Finding the importance of a feature falls into the scope of feature engineering as described in chapter 7.4.3


Ayres, Ian. 2007. Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart. Bantam Books.