Simple RNN

A brief history of neural nets: everything you should know before learning LSTM

This is not a college course or something on deep learning with strict deadlines for assignments, so let’s take a detour from practical stuff and take a brief look at the history of neural networks.

The history of neural networks is also a big topic, which could be so long that I had to prepare another article series. And usually I am supposed to begin such articles with something like “The term ‘AI’ was first used by John McCarthy in Dartmouth conference 1956…” but you can find many of such texts written by people with much more experiences in this field. Therefore I am going to write this article from my point of view, as an intern writing articles on RNN, as a movie buff, and as one of many Japanese men who spent a great deal of childhood with video games.

We are now in the third AI boom, and some researchers say this boom began in 2006. A professor in my university said there we are now in a kind of bubble economy in machine learning/data science industry, but people used to say “Stop daydreaming” to AI researchers. The second AI winter is partly due to vanishing/exploding gradient problem of deep learning. And LSTM was invented as one way to tackle such problems, in 1997.

1, First AI boom

In the first AI boom, I think people were literally “daydreaming.” Even though the applications of machine learning algorithms were limited to simple tasks like playing chess, checker, or searching route of 2d mazes, and sometimes this time is called GOFAI (Good Old Fashioned AI).

Even today when someone use the term “AI” merely for tasks with neural networks, that amuses me because for me deep learning is just statistically and automatically training neural networks, which are capable of universal approximation, into some classifiers/regressors. Actually the algorithms behind that is quite impressive, but the structure of human brains is much more complicated. The hype of “AI” already started in this first AI boom. Let me take an example of machine translation in this video. In fact the research of machine translation already started in the early 1950s, and of  specific interest in the time was translation between English and Russian due to Cold War. In the first article of this series, I said one of the most famous applications of RNN is machine translation, such as Google Translation, DeepL. They are a type of machine translation called neural machine translation because they use neural networks, especially RNNs. Neural machine translation was an astonishing breakthrough around 2014 in machine translation field. The former major type of machine translation was statistical machine translation, based on statistical language models. And the machine translator in the first AI boom was rule base machine translators, which are more primitive than statistical ones.

The most remarkable invention in this time was of course perceptron by Frank Rosenblatt. Some people say that this is the first neural network. Even though you can implement perceptron with a-few-line codes in Python, obviously they did not have Jupyter Notebook in those days. The perceptron was implemented as a huge instrument named Mark 1 Perceptron, and it was composed of randomly connected wires. I do not precisely know how it works, but it was a huge effort to implement even the most primitive type of neural networks. They needed to use a big lighting fixture to get a 20*20 pixel image using 20*20 array of cadmium sulphide photocells. The research by Rosenblatt, however, was criticized by Marvin Minsky in his book because perceptrons could only be used for linearly separable data. To make matters worse the criticism prevailed as that more general, multi-layer perceptrons were also not useful for linearly inseparable data (as I mentioned in the first article, multi-layer perceptrons, namely normal neural networks,  can be universal approximators, which have potentials to classify/regress various types of complex data). In case you do not know what “linearly separable” means, imagine that there are data plotted on a piece of paper. If an elementary school kid can draw a border line between two clusters of the data with a ruler and a pencil on the paper, the 2d data is “linearly separable”….

With big disappointments to the research on “electronic brains,” the budget of AI research was reduced and AI research entered its first winter.

I think  the frame problem(1969),  by John McCarthy and Patrick J. Hayes, is also an iconic theory in the end of the first AI boom. This theory is known as a story of creating a robot trying to pull out its battery on a wheeled wagon in a room. The first prototype of the robot, named R1, naively tried to pull out the wagon form the room, and the bomb exploded. The problems was obvious: R1 was not programmed to consider the risks by taking each action, so the researchers made the next prototype named R1D1, which was programmed to consider the potential risks of taking each action. When R1D1 tried to pull out the wagon, it realized the risk of pulling the bomb together with the battery. But soon it started considering all the potential risks, such as the risk of the ceiling falling down, the distance between the wagon and all the walls, and so on, when the bomb exploded. The next problem was also obvious: R1D1 was not programmed to distinguish if the factors are relevant of irrelevant to the main purpose, and the next prototype R2D1 was programmed to do distinguish them. This time, R2D1 started thinking about “whether the factor is  irrelevant to the main purpose,” on every factor measured, and again the bomb exploded. How can we get a perfect AI, R2D2?

The situation of mentioned above is a bit extreme, but it is said AI could also get stuck when it try to take some super simple actions like finding a number in a phone book and make a phone call. It is difficult for an artificial intelligence to decide what is relevant and what is irrelevant, but humans will not get stuck with such simple stuff, and sometimes the frame problem is counted as the most difficult and essential problem of developing AI. But personally I think the original frame problem was unreasonable in that McCarthy, in his attempts to model the real world, was inflexible in his handling of the various equations involved, treating them all with equal weight regardless of the particular circumstances of a situation. Some people say that McCarthy, who was an advocate for AI, also wanted to see the field come to an end, due to its failure to meet the high expectations it once aroused.

Not only the frame problem, but also many other AI-related technological/philosophical problems have been proposed, such as Chinese room (1980), the symbol grounding problem (1990), and they are thought to be as hardships in inventing artificial intelligence, but I omit those topics in this article.

*The name R2D2 did not come from the famous story of frame problem. The story was Daniel Dennett first proposed the story of R2D2 in his paper published in 1984. Star Wars was first released in 1977. It is said that the name R2D2 came from “Reel 2, Dialogue 2,” which George Lucas said while film shooting. And the design of C3PO came from Maria in Metropolis(1927). It is said that the most famous AI duo in movie history was inspired by Tahei and Matashichi in The Hidden Fortress(1958), directed by Kurosawa Akira.

Interestingly, in the end of the first AI boom, 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick, was released in 1968. Unlike conventional fantasylike AI characters, for example Maria in Metropolis(1927), HAL 9000 was portrayed as a very realistic AI, and the movie already pointed out the risk of AI being insane when it gets some commands from several users. HAL 9000 still has been a very iconic character in AI field. For example when you say some quotes from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Siri you get some parody responses. I also thin you should keep it in mind that in order to make an AI like HAL 9000 come true, for now RNNs would be indispensable in many ways: you would need RNNs for better voice recognition, better conversational system, and for reading lips.

*Just as you cannot understand Monty Python references in Python official tutorials without watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you cannot understand many parodies in AI contexts without watching 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even thought the movie had some interview videos with some researchers and some narrations, Stanley Kubrick cut off all the footage and made the movie very difficult to understand. Most people did not or do not understand that it is a movie about aliens who gave homework of coming to Jupiter to human beings.

2, Second AI boom/winter

I am not going to write about the second AI boom in detail, but at least you should keep it in mind that convolutional neural network(CNN) is a keyword in this time. Neocognitron, an artificial model of how sight nerves perceive thing, was invented by Kunihiko Fukushima in 1980, and the model is said to be the origin on CNN. And Neocognitron got inspired by the Hubel and Wiesel’s research on sight nerves. In 1989, a group in AT & T Bell Laboratory led by Yann LeCun invented the first practical CNN to read handwritten digit.

Another turning point in this second AI boom was that back propagation algorithm was discovered, and the CNN by LeCun was also trained with back propagation. LeCun made a deep neural networks with some layers in 1998 for more practical uses.

But his research did not gain so much attention like today, because AI research entered its second winter at the beginning of the 1990s, and that was partly due to vanishing/exploding gradient problem of deep learning. People knew that neural networks had potentials of universal approximation, but when they tried to train naively stacked neural nets the gradients, which you need to train neural networks, exponentially increased/decreased. Even though the CNN made by LeCun was the first successful case of “deep” neural nets which did not suffer from the vanishing/exploding gradient problem, deep learning research also stagnated in this time.

The ultimate goal of this article series is to understand LSTM at a more abstract/mathematical level because it is one of the practical RNNs, but the idea of LSTM (Long Short Term Memory) itself was already proposed in 1997 as an RNN algorithm to tackle vanishing gradient problem. (Exploding gradient problem is solved with a technique named gradient clipping, and this is easier than techniques for preventing vanishing gradient problems. I am also going to explain it in the next article.) After that some other techniques like introducing forget gate, peephole connections, were discovered, but basically it took some 20 years till LSTM got attentions like today. The reasons for that is lack of hardware and data sets, and that was also major reasons for the second AI winter.

In the 1990s, the mid of second AI winter, the Internet started prevailing for commercial uses. I think one of the iconic events in this time was the source codes WWW(World Wide Web) were announced in 1993. Some of you might still remember that you little by little became able to transmit more data online in this time. That means people came to get more and more access to various datasets in those days, which is indispensable for machine learning tasks.

After all, we could not get HAL 9000 by the end of 2001, but instead we got Xbox console.

3, Video game industry and GPU

Even though research on neural networks stagnated in the 1990s the same period witnessed an advance in the computation of massive parallel linear transformations, due to their need in fields such as image processing.

Computer graphics move or rotate in 3d spaces, and that is also linear transformations. When you think about a car moving in a city, it is convenient to place the car, buildings, and other objects on a fixed 3d space. But when you need to make computer graphics of scenes of the city from a view point inside the car, you put a moving origin point in the car and see the city. The spatial information of the city is calculated as vectors from the moving origin point. Of course this is also linear transformations. Of course I am not talking about a dot or simple figures moving in the 3d spaces. Computer graphics are composed of numerous plane panels, and each of them have at least three vertexes, and they move on 3d spaces. Depending on viewpoints, you need project the 3d graphics in 3d spaces on 2d spaces to display the graphics on devices. You need to calculate which part of the panel is projected to which pixel on the display, and that is called rasterization. Plus, in order to get photophotorealistic image, you need to think about how lights from light sources reflect on the panel and projected on the display. And you also have to put some textures on groups of panels. You might also need to change color spaces, which is also linear transformations.

My point is, in short, you really need to do numerous linear transformations in parallel in image processing.

When it comes to the use of CGI in movies,  two pioneer movies were released during this time: Jurassic Park in 1993, and Toy Story in 1995. It is famous that Pixar used to be one of the departments in ILM(Industrial Light and Magic), founded by George Lucas, and Steve Jobs bought the department. Even though the members in Pixar had not even made a long feature film in their lives, after trial and errors, they made the first CGI animated feature movie. On the other hand, in order to acquire funds for the production of Schindler’s List(1993), Steven Spielberg took on Jurassic Park(1993), consequently changing the history of CGI through this “side job.”

*I think you have realized that George Lucas is mentioned almost everywhere in this article. His influences on technologies are not only limited to image processing, but also sound measuring system, nonlinear editing system. Photoshop was also originally developed under his company. I need another article series for this topic, but maybe not in Data Science Blog.

Considering that the first wire-frame computer graphics made and displayed by computers appeared in the scene of displaying the wire frame structure of Death Star in a war room, in Star Wars: A New Hope, the development of CGI was already astonishing at this time. But I think deep learning owe its development more to video game industry.

*I said that the Death Star scene is the first use of graphics made and DISPLAYED by computers, because I have to say one of the first graphics in movie MADE by computer dates back to the legendary title sequence of Vertigo(1958).

When it comes to 3D video games the processing unit has to constantly deal with real time commands from controllers. It is famous that GPU was originally specifically designed for plotting computer graphics. Video game market is the biggest in entertainment industry in general, and it is said that the quality of computer graphics have the strongest correlation with video games sales, therefore enhancing this quality is a priority for the video game console manufacturers.

One good example to see how much video games developed is comparing original Final Fantasy 7 and the remake one. The original one was released in 1997, the same year as when LSTM was invented. And recently  the remake version of Final Fantasy 7 was finally released this year. The original one was also made with very big budget, and it was divided into three CD-ROMs. The original one was also very revolutionary given that the former ones of Final Fantasy franchise were all 2d video retro style video games. But still the computer graphics looks like polygons, and in almost all scenes the camera angle was fixed in the original one. On the other hand the remake one is very photorealistic and you can move the angle of the camera as you want while you play the video game.

There were also fierce battles by graphic processor manufacturers in computer video game market in the 1990s, but personally I think the release of Xbox console was a turning point in the development of GPU. To be concrete, Microsoft adopted a type of NV20 GPU for Xbox consoles, and that left some room of programmability for developers. The chief architect of NV20, which was released under the brand of GeForce3, said making major changes in the company’s graphic chips was very risky. But that decision opened up possibilities of uses of GPU beyond computer graphics.

I think that the idea of a programmable GPU provided other scientific fields with more visible benefits after CUDA was launched. And GPU gained its position not only in deep learning, but also many other fields including making super computers.

*When it comes to deep learning, even GPUs have strong rivals. TPU(Tensor Processing Unit) made by Google, is specialized for deep learning tasks, and have astonishing processing speed. And FPGA(Field Programmable Gate Array), which was originally invented customizable electronic circuit, proved to be efficient for reducing electricity consumption of deep learning tasks.

*I am not so sure about this GPU part. Processing unit, including GPU is another big topic, that is beyond my capacity to be honest.  I would appreciate it if you could share your view and some references to confirm your opinion, on the comment section or via email.

*If you are interested you should see this video of game fans’ reactions to the announcement of Final Fantasy 7. This is the industry which grew behind the development of deep learning, and many fields where you need parallel computations owe themselves to the nerds who spent a lot of money for video games, including me.

*But ironically the engineers who invented the GPU said they did not play video games simply because they were busy. If you try to study the technologies behind video games, you would not have much time playing them. That is the reality.

We have seen that the in this second AI winter, Internet and GPU laid foundation of the next AI boom. But still the last piece of the puzzle is missing: let’s look at the breakthrough which solved the vanishing /exploding gradient problem of deep learning in the next section.

4, Pretraining of deep belief networks: “The Dawn of Deep Learning”

Some researchers say the invention of pretraining of deep belief network by Geoffrey Hinton was a breakthrough which put an end to the last AI winter. Deep belief networks are different type of networks from the neural networks we have discussed, but their architectures are similar to those of the neural networks. And it was also unknown how to train deep belief nets when they have several layers. Hinton discovered that training the networks layer by layer in advance can tackle vanishing gradient problems. And later it was discovered that you can do pretraining neural networks layer by layer with autoencoders.

*Deep belief network is beyond the scope of this article series. I have to talk about generative models, Boltzmann machine, and some other topics.

The pretraining techniques of neural networks is not mainstream anymore. But I think it is very meaningful to know that major deep learning techniques such as using ReLU activation functions, optimization with Adam, dropout, batch normalization, came up as more effective algorithms for deep learning after the advent of the pretraining techniques, and now we are in the third AI boom.

In the next next article we are finally going to work on LSTM. Specifically, I am going to offer a clearer guide to a well-made paper on LSTM, named “LSTM: A Search Space Odyssey.”

* I make study materials on machine learning, sponsored by DATANOMIQ. I do my best to make my content as straightforward but as precise as possible. I include all of my reference sources. If you notice any mistakes in my materials, including grammatical errors, please let me know (email: yasuto.tamura@datanomiq.de). And if you have any advice for making my materials more understandable to learners, I would appreciate hearing it.

Data Analytics and Mining for Dummies

Data Analytics and Mining is often perceived as an extremely tricky task cut out for Data Analysts and Data Scientists having a thorough knowledge encompassing several different domains such as mathematics, statistics, computer algorithms and programming. However, there are several tools available today that make it possible for novice programmers or people with no absolutely no algorithmic or programming expertise to carry out Data Analytics and Mining. One such tool which is very powerful and provides a graphical user interface and an assembly of nodes for ETL: Extraction, Transformation, Loading, for modeling, data analysis and visualization without, or with only slight programming is the KNIME Analytics Platform.

KNIME, or the Konstanz Information Miner, was developed by the University of Konstanz and is now popular with a large international community of developers. Initially KNIME was originally made for commercial use but now it is available as an open source software and has been used extensively in pharmaceutical research since 2006 and also a powerful data mining tool for the financial data sector. It is also frequently used in the Business Intelligence (BI) sector.

KNIME as a Data Mining Tool

KNIME is also one of the most well-organized tools which enables various methods of machine learning and data mining to be integrated. It is very effective when we are pre-processing data i.e. extracting, transforming, and loading data.

KNIME has a number of good features like quick deployment and scaling efficiency. It employs an assembly of nodes to pre-process data for analytics and visualization. It is also used for discovering patterns among large volumes of data and transforming data into more polished/actionable information.

Some Features of KNIME:

  • Free and open source
  • Graphical and logically designed
  • Very rich in analytics capabilities
  • No limitations on data size, memory usage, or functionalities
  • Compatible with Windows ,OS and Linux
  • Written in Java and edited with Eclipse.

A node is the smallest design unit in KNIME and each node serves a dedicated task. KNIME contains graphical, drag-drop nodes that require no coding. Nodes are connected with one’s output being another’s input, as a workflow. Therefore end-to-end pipelines can be built requiring no coding effort. This makes KNIME stand out, makes it user-friendly and make it accessible for dummies not from a computer science background.

KNIME workflow designed for graduate admission prediction

KNIME workflow designed for graduate admission prediction

KNIME has nodes to carry out Univariate Statistics, Multivariate Statistics, Data Mining, Time Series Analysis, Image Processing, Web Analytics, Text Mining, Network Analysis and Social Media Analysis. The KNIME node repository has a node for every functionality you can possibly think of and need while building a data mining model. One can execute different algorithms such as clustering and classification on a dataset and visualize the results inside the framework itself. It is a framework capable of giving insights on data and the phenomenon that the data represent.

Some commonly used KNIME node groups include:

  • Input-Output or I/O:  Nodes in this group retrieve data from or to write data to external files or data bases.
  • Data Manipulation: Used for data pre-processing tasks. Contains nodes to filter, group, pivot, bin, normalize, aggregate, join, sample, partition, etc.
  • Views: This set of nodes permit users to inspect data and analysis results using multiple views. This gives a means for truly interactive exploration of a data set.
  • Data Mining: In this group, there are nodes that implement certain algorithms (like K-means clustering, Decision Trees, etc.)

Comparison with other tools 

The first version of the KNIME Analytics Platform was released in 2006 whereas Weka and R studio were released in 1997 and 1993 respectively. KNIME is a proper data mining tool whereas Weka and R studio are Machine Learning tools which can also do data mining. KNIME integrates with Weka to add machine learning algorithms to the system. The R project adds statistical functionalities as well. Furthermore, KNIME’s range of functions is impressive, with more than 1,000 modules and ready-made application packages. The modules can be further expanded by additional commercial features.

Six properties of modern Business Intelligence

Regardless of the industry in which you operate, you need information systems that evaluate your business data in order to provide you with a basis for decision-making. These systems are commonly referred to as so-called business intelligence (BI). In fact, most BI systems suffer from deficiencies that can be eliminated. In addition, modern BI can partially automate decisions and enable comprehensive analyzes with a high degree of flexibility in use.


Read this article in German:
“Sechs Eigenschaften einer modernen Business Intelligence“


Let us discuss the six characteristics that distinguish modern business intelligence, which mean taking technical tricks into account in detail, but always in the context of a great vision for your own company BI:

1. Uniform database of high quality

Every managing director certainly knows the situation that his managers do not agree on how many costs and revenues actually arise in detail and what the margins per category look like. And if they do, this information is often only available months too late.

Every company has to make hundreds or even thousands of decisions at the operational level every day, which can be made much more well-founded if there is good information and thus increase sales and save costs. However, there are many source systems from the company’s internal IT system landscape as well as other external data sources. The gathering and consolidation of information often takes up entire groups of employees and offers plenty of room for human error.

A system that provides at least the most relevant data for business management at the right time and in good quality in a trusted data zone as a single source of truth (SPOT). SPOT is the core of modern business intelligence.

In addition, other data on BI may also be made available which can be useful for qualified analysts and data scientists. For all decision-makers, the particularly trustworthy zone is the one through which all decision-makers across the company can synchronize.

2. Flexible use by different stakeholders

Even if all employees across the company should be able to access central, trustworthy data, with a clever architecture this does not exclude that each department receives its own views of this data. Many BI systems fail due to company-wide inacceptance because certain departments or technically defined employee groups are largely excluded from BI.

Modern BI systems enable views and the necessary data integration for all stakeholders in the company who rely on information and benefit equally from the SPOT approach.

3. Efficient ways to expand (time to market)

The core users of a BI system are particularly dissatisfied when the expansion or partial redesign of the information system requires too much of patience. Historically grown, incorrectly designed and not particularly adaptable BI systems often employ a whole team of IT staff and tickets with requests for change requests.

Good BI is a service for stakeholders with a short time to market. The correct design, selection of software and the implementation of data flows / models ensures significantly shorter development and implementation times for improvements and new features.

Furthermore, it is not only the technology that is decisive, but also the choice of organizational form, including the design of roles and responsibilities – from the technical system connection to data preparation, pre-analysis and support for the end users.

4. Integrated skills for Data Science and AI

Business intelligence and data science are often viewed and managed separately from each other. Firstly, because data scientists are often unmotivated to work with – from their point of view – boring data models and prepared data. On the other hand, because BI is usually already established as a traditional system in the company, despite the many problems that BI still has today.

Data science, often referred to as advanced analytics, deals with deep immersion in data using exploratory statistics and methods of data mining (unsupervised machine learning) as well as predictive analytics (supervised machine learning). Deep learning is a sub-area of ​​machine learning and is used for data mining or predictive analytics. Machine learning is a sub-area of ​​artificial intelligence (AI).

In the future, BI and data science or AI will continue to grow together, because at the latest after going live, the prediction models flow back into business intelligence. BI will probably develop into ABI (Artificial Business Intelligence). However, many companies are already using data mining and predictive analytics in the company, using uniform or different platforms with or without BI integration.

Modern BI systems also offer data scientists a platform to access high-quality and more granular raw data.

5. Sufficiently high performance

Most readers of these six points will probably have had experience with slow BI before. It takes several minutes to load a daily report to be used in many classic BI systems. If loading a dashboard can be combined with a little coffee break, it may still be acceptable for certain reports from time to time. At the latest, however, with frequent use, long loading times and unreliable reports are no longer acceptable.

One reason for poor performance is the hardware, which can be almost linearly scaled to higher data volumes and more analysis complexity using cloud systems. The use of cloud also enables the modular separation of storage and computing power from data and applications and is therefore generally recommended, but not necessarily the right choice for all companies.

In fact, performance is not only dependent on the hardware, the right choice of software and the right choice of design for data models and data flows also play a crucial role. Because while hardware can be changed or upgraded relatively easily, changing the architecture is associated with much more effort and BI competence. Unsuitable data models or data flows will certainly bring the latest hardware to its knees in its maximum configuration.

6. Cost-effective use and conclusion

Professional cloud systems that can be used for BI systems offer total cost calculators, such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. With these computers – with instruction from an experienced BI expert – not only can costs for the use of hardware be estimated, but ideas for cost optimization can also be calculated. Nevertheless, the cloud is still not the right solution for every company and classic calculations for on-premise solutions are necessary.

Incidentally, cost efficiency can also be increased with a good selection of the right software. Because proprietary solutions are tied to different license models and can only be compared using application scenarios. Apart from that, there are also good open source solutions that can be used largely free of charge and can be used for many applications without compromises.

However, it is wrong to assess the cost of a BI only according to its hardware and software costs. A significant part of cost efficiency is complementary to the aspects for the performance of the BI system, because suboptimal architectures work wastefully and require more expensive hardware than neatly coordinated architectures. The production of the central data supply in adequate quality can save many unnecessary processes of data preparation and many flexible analysis options also make redundant systems unnecessary and lead to indirect savings.

In any case, a BI for companies with many operational processes is always cheaper than no BI. However, if you take a closer look with BI expertise, cost efficiency is often possible.

How Important is Customer Lifetime Value?

This is the third article of article series Getting started with the top eCommerce use cases. If you are interested in reading the first article you can find it here.

Customer Lifetime Value

Many researches have shown that cost for acquiring a new customer is higher than the cost of retention of an existing customer which makes Customer Lifetime Value (CLV or LTV) one of the most important KPI’s. Marketing is about building a relationship with your customer and quality service matters a lot when it comes to customer retention. CLV is a metric which determines the total amount of money a customer is expected to spend in your business.

CLV allows marketing department of the company to understand how much money a customer is going  to spend over their  life cycle which helps them to determine on how much the company should spend to acquire each customer. Using CLV a company can better understand their customer and come up with different strategies either to retain their existing customers by sending them personalized email, discount voucher, provide them with better customer service etc. This will help a company to narrow their focus on acquiring similar customers by applying customer segmentation or look alike modeling.

One of the main focus of every company is Growth in this competitive eCommerce market today and price is not the only factor when a customer makes a decision. CLV is a metric which revolves around a customer and helps to retain valuable customers, increase revenue from less valuable customers and improve overall customer experience. Don’t look at CLV as just one metric but the journey to calculate this metric involves answering some really important questions which can be crucial for the business. Metrics and questions like:

  1. Number of sales
  2. Average number of times a customer buys
  3. Full Customer journey
  4. How many marketing channels were involved in one purchase?
  5. When the purchase was made?
  6. Customer retention rate
  7. Marketing cost
  8. Cost of acquiring a new customer

and so on are somehow associated with the calculation of CLV and exploring these questions can be quite insightful. Lately, a lot of companies have started to use this metric and shift their focuses in order to make more profit. Amazon is the perfect example for this, in 2013, a study by Consumers Intelligence Research Partners found out that prime members spends more than a non-prime member. So Amazon started focusing on Prime members to increase their profit over the past few years. The whole article can be found here.

How to calculate CLV?

There are several methods to calculate CLV and few of them are listed below.

Method 1: By calculating average revenue per customer

 

Figure 1: Using average revenue per customer

 

Let’s suppose three customers brought 745€ as profit to a company over a period of 2 months then:

CLV (2 months) = Total Profit over a period of time / Number of Customers over a period of time

CLV (2 months) = 745 / 3 = 248 €

Now the company can use this to calculate CLV for an year however, this is a naive approach and works only if the preferences of the customer are same for the same period of time. So let’s explore other approaches.

Method 2

This method requires to first calculate KPI’s like retention rate and discount rate.

 

CLV = Gross margin per lifespan ( Retention rate per month / 1 + Discount rate – Retention rate per month)

Where

Retention rate = Customer at the end of the month – Customer during the month / Customer at the beginning of the month ) * 100

Method 3

This method will allow us to look at other metrics also and can be calculated in following steps:

  1. Calculate average number of transactions per month (T)
  2. Calculate average order value (OV)
  3. Calculate average gross margin (GM)
  4. Calculate customer lifespan in months (ALS)

After calculating these metrics CLV can be calculated as:

 

CLV = T*OV*GM*ALS / No. of Clients for the period

where

Transactions (T) = Total transactions / Period

Average order value (OV) = Total revenue / Total orders

Gross margin (GM) = (Total revenue – Cost of sales/ Total revenue) * 100 [but how you calculate cost of sales is debatable]

Customer lifespan in months (ALS) = 1 / Churn Rate %

 

CLV can be calculated using any of the above mentioned methods depending upon how robust your company wants the analysis to be. Some companies are also using Machine learning models to predict CLV, maybe not directly but they use ML models to predict customer churn rate, retention rate and other marketing KPI’s. Some companies take advantage of all the methods by taking an average at the end.

Integrate Unstructured Data into Your Enterprise to Drive Actionable Insights

In an ideal world, all enterprise data is structured – classified neatly into columns, rows, and tables, easily integrated and shared across the organization.

The reality is far from it! Datamation estimates that unstructured data accounts for more than 80% of enterprise data, and it is growing at a rate of 55 – 65 percent annually. This includes information stored in images, emails, spreadsheets, etc., that cannot fit into databases.

Therefore, it becomes imperative for a data-driven organization to leverage their non-traditional information assets to derive business value. We have outlined a simple 3-step process that can help organizations integrate unstructured sources into their data eco-system:

1. Determine the Challenge

The primary step is narrowing down the challenges you want to solve through the unstructured data flowing in and out of your organization. Financial organizations, for instance, use call reports, sales notes, or other text documents to get real-time insights from the data and make decisions based on the trends. Marketers make use of social media data to evaluate their customers’ needs and shape their marketing strategy.

Figuring out which process your organization is trying to optimize through unstructured data can help you reach your goal faster.

2. Map Out the Unstructured Data Sources Within the Enterprise

An actionable plan starts with identifying the range of data sources that are essential to creating a truly integrated environment. This enables organizations to align the sources with business objectives and streamline their data initiatives.

Deciding which data should be extracted, analyzed, and stored should be a primary concern in this regard. Even if you can ingest data from any source, it doesn’t mean that you should.

Collecting a large volume of unstructured data is not enough to generate insights. It needs to be properly organized and validated for quality before integration. Full, incremental, online, and offline extraction methods are generally used to mine valuable information from unstructured data sources.

3. Transform Unstructured Assets into Decision-Ready Insights

Now that you have all the puzzle pieces, the next step is to create a complete picture. This may require making changes in your organization’s infrastructure to derive meaning from your unstructured assets and get a 360-degree business view.

IDC recommends creating a company culture that promotes the collection, use, and sharing of both unstructured and structured business assets. Therefore, finding an enterprise-grade integration solution that offers enhanced connectivity to a range of data sources, ideally structured, unstructured, and semi-structured, can help organizations generate the most value out of their data assets.

Automation is another feature that can help speed up integration processes, minimize error probability, and generate time-and-cost savings. Features like job scheduling, auto-mapping, and workflow automation can optimize the process of extracting information from XML, JSON, Excel or audio files, and storing it into a relational database or generating insights.

The push to become a data-forward organization has enterprises re-evaluating the way to leverage unstructured data assets for decision-making. With an actionable plan in place to integrate these sources with the rest of the data, organizations can take advantage of the opportunities offered by analytics and stand out from the competition.

5 Things You Should Know About Data Mining

The majority of people spend about twenty-four hours online every week. In that time they give out enough information for big data to know a lot about them. Having people collecting and compiling your data might seem scary but it might have been helpful for you in the past.

 

If you have ever been surprised to find an ad targeted toward something you were talking about earlier or an invention made based on something you were googling, then you already know that data mining can be helpful. Advanced education in data mining can be an awesome resource, so it may pay to have a personal tutor skilled in the area to help you understand. 

 

It is understandable to be unsure of a system that collects all of the information online so that they can learn more about you. Luckily, so much data is put out every day it is unlikely data mining is focusing on any of your important information. Here are a few statistics you should know about mining.

 

1. Data Mining Is Used In Crime Scenes

Using a variation of earthquake prediction software and data, the Los Angeles police department and researchers were able to predict crime within five hundred feet. As they learn how to compile and understand more data patterns, crime detecting will become more accurate.

 

Using their data the Los Angeles police department was able to stop thief activity by thirty-three percent. They were also able to predict violent crime by about twenty-one percent. Those are not perfect numbers, but they are better than before and will get even more impressive as time goes on. 

 

The fact that data mining is able to pick up on crime statistics and compile all of that data to give an accurate picture of where crime is likely to occur is amazing. It gives a place to look and is able to help stop crime as it starts.

 

2. Data Mining Helps With Sales

A great story about data mining in sales is the example of Walmart putting beer near the diapers. The story claims that through measuring statistics and mining data it was found that when men purchase diapers they are also likely to buy a pack of beer. Walmart collected that data and put it to good use by putting the beer next to the diapers.

 

The amount of truth in that story/example is debatable, but it has made data mining popular in most retail stores. Finding which products are often bought together can give insight into where to put products in a store. This practice has increased sales in both items immensely just because people tend to purchase items near one another more than they would if they had to walk to get the second item. 

 

Putting a lot of stock in the data-gathering teams that big stores build does not always work. There have been plenty of times when data teams failed and sales plummeted. Often, the benefits outweigh the potential failure, however, and many stores now use data mining to make a lot of big decisions about their sales.

 

3. It’s Helping With Predicting Disease 

 

In 2009 Google began work to be able to predict the winter flu. Google went through the fifty million most searched words and then compared them with what the CDC was finding during the 2003-2008 flu seasons. With that information google was able to help predict the next winter flu outbreak even down to the states it hit the hardest. 

 

Since 2009, data mining has gotten much better at predicting disease. Since the internet is a newer invention it is still growing and data mining is still getting better. Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to predict disease breakouts quickly and accurately. 

 

With new data mining techniques and research in the medical field, there is hope that doctors will be able to narrow down problems in the heart. As the information grows and more data is entered the medical field gets closer to solving problems through data. It is something that is going to help cure diseases more quickly and find the root of a problem.

 

4. Some Data Mining Gets Ignored

Interestingly, very little of the data that companies collect from you is actually used. “Big data Companies” do not use about eighty-eight percent of the data they have. It is incredibly difficult to use all of the millions of bits of data that go through big data companies every day.

 

The more people that are used for data mining and the more data companies are actually able to filter through, the better the online experience will be. It might be a bit frightening to think of someone going through what you are doing online, but no one is touching any of the information that you keep private. Big data is using the information you put out into the world and using that data to come to conclusions and make the world a better place.

 

There is so much information being put onto the internet at all times. Twenty-four hours a week is the average amount of time a single person spends on the internet, but there are plenty of people who spend more time than that. All of that information takes a lot of people to sift through and there are not enough people in the data mining industry to currently actually go through the majority of the data being put online.

 

5. Too Many Data Mining Jobs

Interestingly, the data industry is booming. In general, there are an amazing amount of careers opening on the internet every day. The industry is growing so quickly that there are not enough people to fill the jobs that are being created.

 

The lack of talent in the industry means there is plenty of room for new people who want to go into the data mining industry. It was predicted that by 2018 there would be a shortage of 140,000 with deep analytical skills. With the lack of jobs that are being discussed, it is amazing that there is such a shortage in the data industry. 

 

If big data is only able to wade through less than half of the data being collected then we are wasting a resource. The more people who go into an analytics or computer career the more information we will be able to collect and utilize. There are currently more jobs than there are people in the data mining field and that needs to be corrected.

 

To Conclude

The data mining industry is making great strides. Big data is trying to use the information they collect to sell more things to you but also to improve the world. Also, there is something very convenient about your computer knowing the type of things you want to buy and showing you them immediately. 

 

Data mining has been able to help predict crime in Los Angeles and lower crime rates. It has also helped companies know what items are commonly purchased together so that stores can be organized more efficiently. Data mining has even been able to predict the outbreak of disease down to the state.

 

Even with so much data being ignored and so many jobs left empty, data mining is doing incredible things. The entire internet is constantly growing and the data mining is growing right along with it. As the data mining industry climbs and more people find their careers mining data the more we will learn and the more facts we will find.

 

Python vs R: Which Language to Choose for Deep Learning?

Data science is increasingly becoming essential for every business to operate efficiently in this modern world. This influences the processes composed together to obtain the required outputs for clients. While machine learning and deep learning sit at the core of data science, the concepts of deep learning become essential to understand as it can help increase the accuracy of final outputs. And when it comes to data science, R and Python are the most popular programming languages used to instruct the machines.

Python and R: Primary Languages Used for Deep Learning

Deep learning and machine learning differentiate based on the input data type they use. While machine learning depends upon the structured data, deep learning uses neural networks to store and process the data during the learning. Deep learning can be described as the subset of machine learning, where the data to be processed is defined in another structure than a normal one.

R is developed specifically to support the concepts and implementation of data science and hence, the support provided by this language is incredible as writing codes become much easier with its simple syntax.

Python is already much popular programming language that can serve more than one development niche without straining even for a bit. The implementation of Python for programming machine learning algorithms is very much popular and the results provided are accurate and faster than any other language. (C or Java). And because of its extended support for data science concept implementation, it becomes a tough competitor for R.

However, if we compare the charts of popularity, Python is obviously more popular among data scientists and developers because of its versatility and easier usage during algorithm implementation. However, R outruns Python when it comes to the packages offered to developers specifically expertise in R over Python. Therefore, to conclude which one of them is the best, let’s take an overview of the features and limits offered by both languages.

Python

Python was first introduced by Guido Van Rossum who developed it as the successor of ABC programming language. Python puts white space at the center while increasing the readability of the developed code. It is a general-purpose programming language that simply extends support for various development needs.

The packages of Python includes support for web development, software development, GUI (Graphical User Interface) development and machine learning also. Using these packages and putting the best development skills forward, excellent solutions can be developed. According to Stackoverflow, Python ranks at the fourth position as the most popular programming language among developers.

Benefits for performing enhanced deep learning using Python are:

  • Concise and Readable Code
  • Extended Support from Large Community of Developers
  • Open-source Programming Language
  • Encourages Collaborative Coding
  • Suitable for small and large-scale products

The latest and stable version of Python has been released as Python 3.8.0 on 14th October 2019. Developing a software solution using Python becomes much easier as the extended support offered through the packages drives better development and answers every need.

R

R is a language specifically used for the development of statistical software and for statistical data analysis. The primary user base of R contains statisticians and data scientists who are analyzing data. Supported by R Foundation for statistical computing, this language is not suitable for the development of websites or applications. R is also an open-source environment that can be used for mining excessive and large amounts of data.

R programming language focuses on the output generation but not the speed. The execution speed of programs written in R is comparatively lesser as producing required outputs is the aim not the speed of the process. To use R in any development or mining tasks, it is required to install its operating system specific binary version before coding to run the program directly into the command line.

R also has its own development environment designed and named RStudio. R also involves several libraries that help in crafting efficient programs to execute mining tasks on the provided data.

The benefits offered by R are pretty common and similar to what Python has to offer:

  • Open-source programming language
  • Supports all operating systems
  • Supports extensions
  • R can be integrated with many of the languages
  • Extended Support for Visual Data Mining

Although R ranks at the 17th position in Stackoverflow’s most popular programming language list, the support offered by this language has no match. After all, the R language is developed by statisticians for statisticians!

Python vs R: Should They be Really Compared?

Even when provided with the best technical support and efficient tools, a developer will not be able to provide quality outputs if he/she doesn’t possess the required skills. The point here is, technical skills rank higher than the resources provided. A comparison of these two programming languages is not advisable as they both hold their own set of advantages. However, the developers considering to use both together are less but they obtain maximum benefit from the process.

Both these languages have some features in common. For example, if a representative comes asking you if you lend technical support for developing an uber clone, you are directly going to decline as Python and R both do not support mobile app development. To benefit the most and develop excellent solutions using both these programming languages, it is advisable to stop comparing and start collaborating!

R and Python: How to Fit Both In a Single Program

Anticipating the future needs of the development industry, there has been a significant development to combine these both excellent programming languages into one. Now, there are two approaches to performing this: either we include R script into Python code or vice versa.

Using the available interfaces, packages and extended support from Python we can include R script into the code and enhance the productivity of Python code. Availability of PypeR, pyRserve and more resources helps run these two programming languages efficiently while efficiently performing the background work.

Either way, using the developed functions and packages made available for integrating Python in R are also effective at providing better results. Available R packages like rJython, rPython, reticulate, PythonInR and more, integrating Python into R language is very easy.

Therefore, using the development skills at their best and maximizing the use of such amazing resources, Python and R can be togetherly used to enhance end results and provide accurate deep learning support.

Conclusion

Python and R both are great in their own names and own places. However, because of the wide applications of Python in almost every operation, the annual packages offered to Python developers are less than the developers skilled in using R. However, this doesn’t justify the usability of R. The ultimate decision of choosing between these two languages depends upon the data scientists or developers and their mining requirements.

And if a developer or data scientist decides to develop skills for both- Python and R-based development, it turns out to be beneficial in the near future. Choosing any one or both to use in your project depends on the project requirements and expert support on hand.

Process Paradise by the Dashboard Light

The right questions drive business success. Questions like, “How can I make sure my product is the best of its kind?” “How can I get the edge over my competitors?” and “How can I keep growing my organization?” Modern businesses take their questions further, focusing on the details of how they actually function. At this level, the questions become, “How can I make my business as efficient as possible?” “How can I improve the way my company does business?” and even, “Why aren’t my company’s processes working as they should?”


Read this article in German:

Mit Dashboards zur Prozessoptimierung


To discover the answers to these questions (and many others!), more and more businesses are turning to process mining. Process mining helps organizations unlock hidden value by automatically collecting information on process models from across the different IT systems operating within a business. This allows for continuous monitoring of an organization’s end-to-end process landscape, meaning managers and staff gain specific operational insights into potential risks—as well as ongoing improvement opportunities.

However, process mining is not a silver bullet that turns data into insights at the push of a button. Process mining software is simply a tool that produces information, which then must be analyzed and acted upon by real people. For this to happen, the information produced must be available to decision-makers in an understandable format.

For most process mining tools, the emphasis remains on the sophistication of analysis capabilities, with the resulting data needing to be interpreted by a select group of experts or specialists within an organization. This necessarily creates a delay between the data being produced, the analysis completed, and actions taken in response.

Process mining software that supports a more collaborative approach by reducing the need for specific expertise can help bridge this gap. Only if hypotheses, analysis, and discoveries are shared, discussed, and agreed upon with a wide range of people can really meaningful insights be generated.

Of course, process mining software is currently capable of generating standardized reports and readouts, but in a business environment where the pace of change is constantly increasing, this may not be sufficient for very much longer. For truly effective process mining, the secret to success will be anticipating challenges and opportunities, then dealing with them as they arise in real time.

Dashboards of the future

To think about how process mining could improve, let’s consider an analog example. Technology evolves to make things easier—think of the difference between keeping track of expenditure using a written ledger vs. an electronic spreadsheet. Now imagine the spreadsheet could tell you exactly when you needed to read it, and where to start, as well as alerting you to errors and omissions before you were even aware you’d made them.

Advances in process mining make this sort of enhanced assistance possible for businesses seeking to improve the way they work. With the right process mining software, companies can build tailored operational cockpits that unite real-time operational data with process management. This allows for the usual continuous monitoring of individual processes and outcomes, but it also offers even clearer insights into an organization’s overall process health.

Combining process mining with an organization’s existing process models in the right way turns these models from static representations of the way a particular process operates, into dynamic dashboards that inform, guide and warn managers and staff about problems in real time. And remember, dynamic doesn’t have to mean distracting—the right process mining software cuts into your processes to reveal an all-new analytical layer of process transparency, making things easier to understand, not harder.

As a result, business transformation initiatives and other improvement plans and can be adapted and restructured on the go, while decision-makers can create automated messages to immediately be advised of problems and guided to where the issues are occurring, allowing corrective action to be completed faster than ever. This rapid evaluation and response across any process inefficiencies will help organizations save time and money by improving wasted cycle times, locating bottlenecks, and uncovering non-compliance across their entire process landscape.

Dynamic dashboards with Signavio

To see for yourself how the most modern and advanced process mining software can help you reveal actionable insights into the way your business works, give Signavio Process Intelligence a try. With Signavio’s Live Insights, all your process information can be visualized in one place, represented through a traffic light system. Simply decide which processes and which activities within them you want to monitor or understand, place the indicators, choose the thresholds, and let Signavio Process Intelligence connect your process models to the data.

Banish multiple tabs and confusing layouts, amaze your colleagues and managers with fact-based insights to support your business transformation, and reduce the time it takes to deliver value from your process management initiatives. To find out more about Signavio Process Intelligence, or sign up for a free 30-day trial, visit www.signavio.com/try.

Process mining is a powerful analysis tool, giving you the visibility, quantifiable numbers, and information you need to improve your business processes. Would you like to read more? With this guide to managing successful process mining initiatives, you will learn that how to get started, how to get the right people on board, and the right project approach.

Interview – Customer Data Platform, more than CRM 2.0?

Interview with David M. Raab from the CDP Institute

David M. Raab is as a consultant specialized in marketing software and service vendor selection, marketing analytics and marketing technology assessment. Furthermore he is the founder of the Customer Data Platform Institute which is a vendor-neutral educational project to help marketers build a unified customer view that is available to all of their company systems.

Furthermore he is a Keynote-Speaker for the Predictive Analytics World Event 2019 in Berlin.

Data Science Blog: Mr. Raab, what exactly is a Customer Data Platform (CDP)? And where is the need for it?

The CDP Institute defines a Customer Data Platform as „packaged software that builds a unified, persistent customer database that is accessible by other systems“.  In plainer language, a CDP assembles customer data from all sources, combines it into customer profiles, and makes the profiles available for any use.  It’s important because customer data is collected in so many different systems today and must be unified to give customers the experience they expect.

Data Science Blog: Is it something like a CRM System 2.0? What Use Cases can be realized by a Customer Data Platform?

CRM systems are used to interact directly with customers, usually by telephone or in the field.  They work almost exclusively with data that is entered during those interactions.  This gives a very limited view of the customer since interactions through other channels such as order processing or Web sites are not included.  In fact, one common use case for CDP is to give CRM users a view of all customer interactions, typically by opening a window into the CDP database without needing to import the data into the CRM.  There are many other use cases for unified data, including customer segmentation, journey analysis, and personalization.  Anything that requires sharing data across different systems is a CDP use case.

Data Science Blog: When does a CDP make sense for a company? It is more relevant for retail and financial companies than for industrial companies, isn´t it?

CDP has been adopted most widely in retail and online media, where each customer has many interactions and there are many products to choose from.  This is a combination that can make good use of predictive modeling, which benefits greatly from having more complete data.  Financial services was slower to adopt, probably because they have fewer products but also because they already had pretty good customer data systems.  B2B has also been slow to adopt because so much of their customer relationship is handled by sales people.  We’ve more recently been seeing growth in additional sectors such as travel, healthcare, and education.  Those involve fewer transactions than retail but also rely on building strong customer relationships based on good data.

Data Science Blog: There are several providers for CDPs. Adobe, Tealium, Emarsys or Dynamic Yield, just to name some of them. Do they differ a lot between each other?

Yes they do.  All CDPs build the customer profiles I mentioned.  But some do more things, such as predictive modeling, message selection, and, increasingly, message delivery.  Of course they also vary in the industries they specialize in, regions they support, size of clients they work with, and many technical details.  This makes it hard to buy a CDP but also means buyers are more likely to find a system that fits their needs.

Data Science Blog: How established is the concept of the CDP in Europe in general? And how in comparison with the United States?

CDP is becoming more familiar in Europe but is not as well understood as in the U.S.  The European market spent a lot of money on Data Management Platforms (DMPs) which promised to do much of what a CDP does but were not able to because they do not store the level of detail that a CDP does.  Many DMPs also don’t work with personally identifiable data because the DMPs primarily support Web advertising, where many customers are anonymous.  The failures of DMPs have harmed CDPs because they have made buyers skeptical that any system can meet their needs, having already failed once.  But we are overcoming this as the market becomes better educated and more success stories are available.  What’s the same in Europe and the U.S. is that marketers face the same needs.  This will push European marketers towards CDPs as the best solution in many cases.

Data Science Blog: What are coming trends? What will be the main topic 2020?

We see many CDPs with broader functions for marketing execution: campaign management, personalization, and message delivery in particular.  This is because marketers would like to buy as few systems as possible, so they want broader scope in each systems.  We’re seeing expansion into new industries such as financial services, travel, telecommunications, healthcare, and education.  Perhaps most interesting will be the entry of Adobe, Salesforce, and Oracle, who have all promised CDP products late this year or early next year.  That will encourage many more people to consider buying CDPs.  We expect that market will expand quite rapidly, so current CDP vendors will be able to grow even as Adobe, Salesforce, and Oracle make new CDP sales.


You want to get in touch with Daniel M. Raab and understand more about the concept of a CDP? Meet him at the Predictive Analytics World 18th and 19th November 2019 in Berlin, Germany. As a Keynote-Speaker, he will introduce the concept of a Customer Data Platform in the light of Predictive Analytics. Click here to see the agenda of the event.

 


 

A Bird’s Eye View: How Machine Learning Can Help You Charge Your E-Scooters

Bird scooters in Columbus, Ohio

Bird scooters in Columbus, Ohio

Ever since I started using bike-sharing to get around in Seattle, I have become fascinated with geolocation data and the transportation sharing economy. When I saw this project leveraging the mobility data RESTful API from the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, I was eager to dive in and get my hands dirty building a data product utilizing a company’s mobility data API.

Unfortunately, the major bike and scooter providers (Bird, JUMP, Lime) don’t have publicly accessible APIs. However, some folks have seemingly been able to reverse-engineer the Bird API used to populate the maps in their Android and iOS applications.

One interesting feature of this data is the nest_id, which indicates if the Bird scooter is in a “nest” — a centralized drop-off spot for charged Birds to be released back into circulation.

I set out to ask the following questions:

  1. Can real-time predictions be made to determine if a scooter is currently in a nest?
  2. For non-nest scooters, can new nest location recommendations be generated from geospatial clustering?

To answer these questions, I built a full-stack machine learning web application, NestGenerator, which provides an automated recommendation engine for new nest locations. This application can help power Bird’s internal nest location generation that runs within their Android and iOS applications. NestGenerator also provides real-time strategic insight for Bird chargers who are enticed to optimize their scooter collection and drop-off route based on proximity to scooters and nest locations in their area.

Bird

The electric scooter market has seen substantial growth with Bird’s recent billion dollar valuation  and their $300 million Series C round in the summer of 2018. Bird offers electric scooters that top out at 15 mph, cost $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute of use. Bird scooters are in over 100 cities globally and they announced in late 2018 that they eclipsed 10 million scooter rides since their launch in 2017.

Bird scooters in Tel Aviv, Israel

Bird scooters in Tel Aviv, Israel

With all of these scooters populating cities, there’s much-needed demand for people to charge them. Since they are electric, someone needs to charge them! A charger can earn additional income for charging the scooters at their home and releasing them back into circulation at nest locations. The base price for charging each Bird is $5.00. It goes up from there when the Birds are harder to capture.

Data Collection and Machine Learning Pipeline

The full data pipeline for building “NestGenerator”

Data

From the details here, I was able to write a Python script that returned a list of Bird scooters within a specified area, their geolocation, unique ID, battery level and a nest ID.

I collected scooter data from four cities (Atlanta, Austin, Santa Monica, and Washington D.C.) across varying times of day over the course of four weeks. Collecting data from different cities was critical to the goal of training a machine learning model that would generalize well across cities.

Once equipped with the scooter’s latitude and longitude coordinates, I was able to leverage additional APIs and municipal data sources to get granular geolocation data to create an original scooter attribute and city feature dataset.

Data Sources:

  • Walk Score API: returns a walk score, transit score and bike score for any location.
  • Google Elevation API: returns elevation data for all locations on the surface of the earth.
  • Google Places API: returns information about places. Places are defined within this API as establishments, geographic locations, or prominent points of interest.
  • Google Reverse Geocoding API: reverse geocoding is the process of converting geographic coordinates into a human-readable address.
  • Weather Company Data: returns the current weather conditions for a geolocation.
  • LocationIQ: Nearby Points of Interest (PoI) API returns specified PoIs or places around a given coordinate.
  • OSMnx: Python package that lets you download spatial geometries and model, project, visualize, and analyze street networks from OpenStreetMap’s APIs.

Feature Engineering

After extensive API wrangling, which included a four-week prolonged data collection phase, I was finally able to put together a diverse feature set to train machine learning models. I engineered 38 features to classify if a scooter is currently in a nest.

Full Feature Set

Full Feature Set

The features boiled down into four categories:

  • Amenity-based: parks within a given radius, gas stations within a given radius, walk score, bike score
  • City Network Structure: intersection count, average circuity, street length average, average streets per node, elevation level
  • Distance-based: proximity to closest highway, primary road, secondary road, residential road
  • Scooter-specific attributes: battery level, proximity to closest scooter, high battery level (> 90%) scooters within a given radius, total scooters within a given radius

 

Log-Scale Transformation

For each feature, I plotted the distribution to explore the data for feature engineering opportunities. For features with a right-skewed distribution, where the mean is typically greater than the median, I applied these log transformations to normalize the distribution and reduce the variability of outlier observations. This approach was used to generate a log feature for proximity to closest scooter, closest highway, primary road, secondary road, and residential road.

An example of a log transformation

Statistical Analysis: A Systematic Approach

Next, I wanted to ensure that the features I included in my model displayed significant differences when broken up by nest classification. My thinking was that any features that did not significantly differ when stratified by nest classification would not have a meaningful predictive impact on whether a scooter was in a nest or not.

Distributions of a feature stratified by their nest classification can be tested for statistically significant differences. I used an unpaired samples t-test with a 0.01% significance level to compute a p-value and confidence interval to determine if there was a statistically significant difference in means for a feature stratified by nest classification. I rejected the null hypothesis if a p-value was smaller than the 0.01% threshold and if the 99.9% confidence interval did not straddle zero. By rejecting the null-hypothesis in favor of the alternative hypothesis, it’s deemed there is a significant difference in means of a feature by nest classification.

Battery Level Distribution Stratified by Nest Classification to run a t-test

Battery Level Distribution Stratified by Nest Classification to run a t-test

Log of Closest Scooter Distribution Stratified by Nest Classification to run a t-test

Throwing Away Features

Using the approach above, I removed ten features that did not display statistically significant results.

Statistically Insignificant Features Removed Before Model Development

Model Development

I trained two models, a random forest classifier and an extreme gradient boosting classifier since tree-based models can handle skewed data, capture important feature interactions, and provide a feature importance calculation. I trained the models on 70% of the data collected for all four cities and reserved the remaining 30% for testing.

After hyper-parameter tuning the models for performance on cross-validation data it was time to run the models on the 30% of test data set aside from the initial data collection.

I also collected additional test data from other cities (Columbus, Fort Lauderdale, San Diego) not involved in training the models. I took this step to ensure the selection of a machine learning model that would generalize well across cities. The performance of each model on the additional test data determined which model would be integrated into the application development.

Performance on Additional Cities Test Data

The Random Forest Classifier displayed superior performance across the board

The Random Forest Classifier displayed superior performance across the board

I opted to move forward with the random forest model because of its superior performance on AUC score and accuracy metrics on the additional cities test data. AUC is the Area under the ROC Curve, and it provides an aggregate measure of model performance across all possible classification thresholds.

AUC Score on Test Data for each Model

AUC Score on Test Data for each Model

Feature Importance

Battery level dominated as the most important feature. Additional important model features were proximity to high level battery scooters, proximity to closest scooter, and average distance to high level battery scooters.

Feature Importance for the Random Forest Classifier

Feature Importance for the Random Forest Classifier

The Trade-off Space

Once I had a working machine learning model for nest classification, I started to build out the application using the Flask web framework written in Python. After spending a few days of writing code for the application and incorporating the trained random forest model, I had enough to test out the basic functionality. I could finally run the application locally to call the Bird API and classify scooter’s into nests in real-time! There was one huge problem, though. It took more than seven minutes to generate the predictions and populate in the application. That just wasn’t going to cut it.

The question remained: will this model deliver in a production grade environment with the goal of making real-time classifications? This is a key trade-off in production grade machine learning applications where on one end of the spectrum we’re optimizing for model performance and on the other end we’re optimizing for low latency application performance.

As I continued to test out the application’s performance, I still faced the challenge of relying on so many APIs for real-time feature generation. Due to rate-limiting constraints and daily request limits across so many external APIs, the current machine learning classifier was not feasible to incorporate into the final application.

Run-Time Compliant Application Model

After going back to the drawing board, I trained a random forest model that relied primarily on scooter-specific features which were generated directly from the Bird API.

Through a process called vectorization, I was able to transform the geolocation distance calculations utilizing NumPy arrays which enabled batch operations on the data without writing any “for” loops. The distance calculations were applied simultaneously on the entire array of geolocations instead of looping through each individual element. The vectorization implementation optimized real-time feature engineering for distance related calculations which improved the application response time by a factor of ten.

Feature Importance for the Run-time Compliant Random Forest Classifier

Feature Importance for the Run-time Compliant Random Forest Classifier

This random forest model generalized well on test-data with an AUC score of 0.95 and an accuracy rate of 91%. The model retained its prediction accuracy compared to the former feature-rich model, but it gained 60x in application performance. This was a necessary trade-off for building a functional application with real-time prediction capabilities.

Geospatial Clustering

Now that I finally had a working machine learning model for classifying nests in a production grade environment, I could generate new nest locations for the non-nest scooters. The goal was to generate geospatial clusters based on the number of non-nest scooters in a given location.

The k-means algorithm is likely the most common clustering algorithm. However, k-means is not an optimal solution for widespread geolocation data because it minimizes variance, not geodetic distance. This can create suboptimal clustering from distortion in distance calculations at latitudes far from the equator. With this in mind, I initially set out to use the DBSCAN algorithm which clusters spatial data based on two parameters: a minimum cluster size and a physical distance from each point. There were a few issues that prevented me from moving forward with the DBSCAN algorithm.

  1. The DBSCAN algorithm does not allow for specifying the number of clusters, which was problematic as the goal was to generate a number of clusters as a function of non-nest scooters.
  2. I was unable to hone in on an optimal physical distance parameter that would dynamically change based on the Bird API data. This led to suboptimal nest locations due to a distortion in how the physical distance point was used in clustering. For example, Santa Monica, where there are ~15,000 scooters, has a higher concentration of scooters in a given area whereas Brookline, MA has a sparser set of scooter locations.

An example of how sparse scooter locations vs. highly concentrated scooter locations for a given Bird API call can create cluster distortion based on a static physical distance parameter in the DBSCAN algorithm. Left:Bird scooters in Brookline, MA. Right:Bird scooters in Santa Monica, CA.

An example of how sparse scooter locations vs. highly concentrated scooter locations for a given Bird API call can create cluster distortion based on a static physical distance parameter in the DBSCAN algorithm. Left:Bird scooters in Brookline, MA. Right:Bird scooters in Santa Monica, CA.

Given the granularity of geolocation scooter data I was working with, geospatial distortion was not an issue and the k-means algorithm would work well for generating clusters. Additionally, the k-means algorithm parameters allowed for dynamically customizing the number of clusters based on the number of non-nest scooters in a given location.

Once clusters were formed with the k-means algorithm, I derived a centroid from all of the observations within a given cluster. In this case, the centroids are the mean latitude and mean longitude for the scooters within a given cluster. The centroids coordinates are then projected as the new nest recommendations.

NestGenerator showcasing non-nest scooters and new nest recommendations utilizing the K-Means algorithm

NestGenerator showcasing non-nest scooters and new nest recommendations utilizing the K-Means algorithm.

NestGenerator Application

After wrapping up the machine learning components, I shifted to building out the remaining functionality of the application. The final iteration of the application is deployed to Heroku’s cloud platform.

In the NestGenerator app, a user specifies a location of their choosing. This will then call the Bird API for scooters within that given location and generate all of the model features for predicting nest classification using the trained random forest model. This forms the foundation for map filtering based on nest classification. In the app, a user has the ability to filter the map based on nest classification.

Drop-Down Map View filtering based on Nest Classification

Drop-Down Map View filtering based on Nest Classification

Nearest Generated Nest

To see the generated nest recommendations, a user selects the “Current Non-Nest Scooters & Predicted Nest Locations” filter which will then populate the application with these nest locations. Based on the user’s specified search location, a table is provided with the proximity of the five closest nests and an address of the Nest location to help inform a Bird charger in their decision-making.

NestGenerator web-layout with nest addresses and proximity to nearest generated nests

NestGenerator web-layout with nest addresses and proximity to nearest generated nests

Conclusion

By accurately predicting nest classification and clustering non-nest scooters, NestGenerator provides an automated recommendation engine for new nest locations. For Bird, this application can help power their nest location generation that runs within their Android and iOS applications. NestGenerator also provides real-time strategic insight for Bird chargers who are enticed to optimize their scooter collection and drop-off route based on scooters and nest locations in their area.

Code

The code for this project can be found on my GitHub

Comments or Questions? Please email me an E-Mail!