“Hey Siri,” I said. “Call Nancy. Mobile.” Siri replied, “Calling Lindsay. Mobile.” It began to ring. I hadn’t worked with Lindsay in six years. I lunged for my phone and touched the red button just in time to avoid what would no doubt have been an awkward, out-of-the-blue conversation with her. Then, I contemplated the complexities of NLP development.
AI training data operations are a lot like the assembly lines of yesterday’s factories. Data is your raw material, and you have to get it through multiple processing and review steps before it’s ready for machine learning. If you want to develop a high-performing ML model, you need smart people, tools, and operations. We hosted a webinar to discuss this topic with experts in workforce and tooling for machine learning. This is a transcript of that November 14, 2018 webinar. It includes minor edits for clarity.
“Houston, we’ve had a problem.” Astronaut Jack Swigert made the words famous when he communicated to NASA mission control that an explosion had rocked the Apollo 13 capsule that was transporting him and two other people to the moon in April 1970. To get the astronauts home safely, the engineers at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas would have to do something they had never attempted before: use the descent engines on the lunar lander to send it home.
NASA estimated that it took 400,000 engineers, scientists, and technicians to send astronauts to the moon on the Apollo missions. The massive workforce was comprised of people from four major enterprise companies and a host of subcontractors who worked for them.
If AI development were a sport, it’d be closer to baseball than boxing. Headlines might make it seem like AI breakthroughs happen with a big knockout punch, but the reality is more akin to a baseball team grinding through a 162-game season. It’s a process that involves having the right people in place over a long stretch, and fielding the best team is essential for success.
Bringing artificial intelligence (AI) to life in the real world is a lot like the 20th-century “space race” for dominance in spaceflight capability. Few can fathom the level of innovation and sheer effort it takes. From model development and data prep to testing and deployment, AI requires a pioneering spirit, sharp minds, and a lot of hard work. AI innovators encounter countless challenges and frustrating defeats.
Oscar Wilde once argued that life imitates art more than art imitates life. Strangely, that’s proving to be the case when it comes to AI development – but not in the way some had hoped.
A Production Problem (Solved)
When Henry Ford attempted to produce the Model T at a rapid pace and with high quality, he ran into a problem. It was difficult to organize teams of specialized workers to assemble automobiles, and with so many workers needed to scale the process, it was highly inefficient. To make matters worse, late delivery of parts caused pile-ups of workers vying for space to work and delays in production.
As the volume of the world’s big data grows at a staggering speed, so too does the need for people who know how to extract knowledge, insights, or solutions from it. Today’s data scientist must have both the technical skills to solve complex data problems and the curiosity to seek out the hidden problems data can solve.
Digital experts often compare data to oil. It’s immensely valuable, though mostly hidden. You need resources to mine it and experts to refine it. And, most importantly, it must be handled with extreme care to prevent the worst-case scenario: a massive spill.