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Researching and Learning how to Make Machines Learn

Chris Sellek

Staff Software Engineer at WillowTree Apps

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Research to no Avail

I first heard about machine learning in college, where I learned about an algorithm trained to beat the best Go player in the world. Finding this information blew my mind and sparked my interest in machine learning. I wanted to learn more about machine learning and create my algorithms. However, I struggled in doing so as I could find minimal amounts of information regarding machine learning on the internet, and each search felt like a dead end.

Searching for Information

Using my resources:

Using Javascript, the language I’ve worked with throughout my entire career, I found a library that allowed me to do machine learning. Generally, Python has been the most popular machine learning language, but finding something in Javascript meant I could focus on just learning machine learning, instead of machine learning AND another language's syntax. I began researching and playing around with it, trying to understand its capabilities.

Delving Deeper:

I found that this library (brain.js) I was using included tutorials and a basic overview of machine learning. After learning the very basics, I found TensorFlow.js, the powerhouse machine learning library. As I learned how to use TensorFlow.js and all of the extra functionality it offered, I found that I was using bits of information from random corners of the internet and meshing them all together in my head to create a more holistic understanding of machine learning for myself.

Testing it Out:

Moving forward, I began playing around with creating different algorithms. One of the first ones I made was an algorithm that predicted the survival of each individual on the Titanic. I was given a training dataset and used it to make my algorithm around 80-90% accurate at predicting the survivors in a separate test dataset. Once I had begun to understand what I could create using data and deep learning, I moved forward to using reinforcement learning.

I taught an algorithm to make its way through a Frozen Lake maze in the most efficient way possible. I’ve worked on this project for a long time and only managed to teach an algorithm how to make its way through a single maze. Teaching it to learn the game itself has proved elusive.

Creating my Algorithm: I’ve recently combined my interest in the NFL with machine learning. Using a LOT of data, an LSTM network, and deep learning, I’ve achieved an average accuracy of 64%, which is a similar accuracy to the best NFL experts. My goal is to eventually make it even BETTER than those experts.

To Create a Deeper Understanding

  • Machine learning is the future of our modern world. The capabilities that machine learning algorithms can have are unreal. An example of this is an algorithm that identifies cancer in patients sooner, and with higher accuracy, than specialized doctors.
  • Machine learning lacks transparency right now. When something is going wrong, it’s not similar to regular programming, where you can simply debug the code. Because these deep neural networks are so deep and running such complicated math, they're kind of a black box at the moment. So when something goes wrong, it's up to you as the programmer to figure out where the issue is without any real details about why things aren't working quite right.

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Chris Sellek

Staff Software Engineer at WillowTree Apps


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