Why you need to understand Data Science

or why everyone should try a machine learning experiment

McKinsey predict in the next decade we will need between 2m and 4m ‘business translators’ to sit between data scientists and the business, data scientists are a valuable commodity and not great at understanding business problems, and conversely the business finds it hard to express their requirements in a way a data scientist understands.

They easiest way to understand a little of what a data scientist does is to try it for yourself, you wont be able to double your salary and worth overnight. But you will gain an insight into the structure and terminology of a machine learning experiment, which is at the heart of data science and the road to deep learning.

You need nothing to get started, no previous knowledge, no credit card, just curiosity, a little patience and ability to follow instructions 🙂

The ‘challenge’ is to train a Machine Learning model with Flight Data and then to use the historic data to predict whether a flight will be late or not

Azure Machine Learning Challenge for Flight Prediction

This Learning Challenge uses Flight data to predict when a flight will be late. We begin by accessing Azure ML. Here is an overview of what we will do:

1. Access Azure ML

2. Create an Experiment

3. Import, Review and Clean Data

4. Specify Columns to Use

5. Split The Data Into A Training And Test Set

6. Train the model

7. Select Algorithm

8. Score the Model

9. Evaluate Model

10. Run Experiment!

1. Access Azure ML

This Azure Machine Learning Challenge can be completed with:

  • Guest Access¬†– This does not require an Azure subscription or a credit card. It is anonymous access. After 8 hours the workspace gets reset. This is a great option for evaluation and this Challenge.
  • Your Own Account¬†– Sign in and use a work, school or Microsoft account. Please do not take a tour now, explore the tour later. There are two types:Free Account (Microsoft Account¬†required) – 10 GB of Storage, R and Python Scripts and Web Service access
  • Enterprise Grade (Azure Subscription¬†required) – Full SLA, Bring your own Azure Storage, parallel graph execution, Elastic Web Service Endpoints

2. Create an Experiment

Let’s get started by making a new experiment.

A. Make a new experiment

Select +New in the lower left corner.

B. Select Blank Experiment

To the right of Experiment, you will see a tile with a plus sign and the words Blank Experiment. Select + Blank Experiment.

C. Give the experiment a title

By default, a title is created with a name like “Experiment created on 9/24/2016“. Change the title to “My first Azure ML experiment” by editing the provided title.

3. Import, Review and Clean Data

A. Search for flight data

Type ‚Äúflight‚ÄĚ into the search bar.

B. Import data

Drag the Flight on-time performance Dataset to the workspace as show in the image. This is one of many sample datasets built into Azure Machine Learning Studio designed to help you learn and explore the tool.

C. Review Data

Right click on the dataset on your worksheet and select dataset | visualize from the pop-up menu.

Notice the graphs or charts at the top of each data column. Explore the dataset by clicking on different columns. It’s essential in Machine Learning to be familiar with your data and visualizing your dataset is a great first step. This dataset provides a great deal of information about flights and whether or not they arrived on time. We are going to use Machine Learning to use this data to create a model that predicts whether a given flight will be late.

Note: In an actual data science experiment, it is likely going to be necessary to Data Wrangle or clean dirty data. For this example, the data set is clean.

You can find the column definitions for this data on the US Department of Transportation site.

D. Close the data visualization window

Click on the X in the top right corner of the window to close the data visualization window..

4. Specify Columns to Use

You need to review the data in the dataset and decide which columns represent data that you think will affect whether or not a flight is delayed. You also need to select the column that you want to predict. In this case, we are going to predict the value of ArrDel15. This is a binary state, 0/1, that indicates whether a flight arrival was delayed by more than 15 minutes.

A. Add Manipulation to Select Columns in Dataset

First, type “project” into the search bar and drag the¬†Select Columns in Dataset¬†manipulation to the workspace. This manipulation enables you to specify which columns in the data set you think are significant to the prediction.

B. Connect Flight on-time performance task to Select Columns in Dataset task

Connect the output of Flight on-time performance dataset to the input of the Select Columns in Dataset by clicking on the lower center dot and dragging to the input, top center dot, of the Select Columns in Dataset task.

C. Launch Column Selector

Click on the Select Columns in Dataset module, then on the far right, select Launch column selector.

D. Select Columns

Select the columns you think affect whether or not a flight is delayed as well as the column we want to predict ArrDel15. In the following screenshot, I selected Month, Carrier (airline), OriginAirportID, DestAirportID, and ArrDel15. You might select more or less columns. You can also add or remove columns later.

E. Complete Column Selection

Select the checkbox in the lower right of the Select columns window.

5. Split The Data Into A Training And Test Set

The Split Data task allows us to divide up our data, we need some of the data to try and find patterns so we can make predictions. We need to save some of the data to test if the model we create successfully makes predictions.

Traditionally, you will split the data 80/20 or 70/30. For today’s challenge everyone will use an 80/20 split. That means 80% of the data will be used to train the model and 20% will be used to test the accuracy of the model we develop.

A. Split Data Task

Type ‚Äúsplit‚ÄĚ into the search bar and drag the¬†Split Data¬†task to the workspace. Connect the output of¬†Select Columns in Dataset¬†task to the input of the¬†Split Data¬†task (same way we connected the Flight Data to the Select Columns modules).

B. Split our input data

Click on the Split Data task to bring up the Properties Pane and specify .8 as the Fraction of rows.

6. Train The Model

Next, we identify which data is to be predicted. In our case, we are predicting the value of the column ArrDel15 which indicates if a flight arrival time was delayed by more than 15 minutes.

A. Connect Data

Type ‚Äútrain model‚ÄĚ into the search bar. Drag the¬†Train Model¬†task to the workspace.

Hovering over the input and output dots will reveal what each input/output represents. Connect the first output, Results Dataset1, (the circle on the left) of the Split Data task to the rightmost input of the Train Model task. This will take 80 % of our data and use it to train/teach our model to make predictions.

B. Identify Predicted Value

Click on the¬†Train Model¬†task. In the¬†Properties¬†window, select Launch Column Selector. Select the column¬†ArrDel15¬†by typing “arrdel15” in to the text box (a smart filter of columns will appear). Click the checkbox in the lower right corner to complete the operation.

7. Select Algorithm

If you are a data scientist who creates their own algorithms, you could now import your own R code to analyze the patterns. But, Azure ML provides a number of standard algorithms which are available for use.

Selecting an algorithm can be overwhelming, to help narrow the process a Azure ML Cheat Sheet has been created. By narrowing the type of problem you are solving can find the algorithms that will be most likely to generate a good model.

Today we are doing binary classification also known as Two-Class Classification. Using the cheat sheet we can narrow our selection to a standard algorithm called Two-Class Neural Network.

As you can see there are many Two-Class algorithms that we can choose from so we may want to try different ones out as we refine our model. Swapping out or even comparing two algorithms is made easy with Azure Machine learning as you will see.

A. Connect algorithm

Type ‚Äútwo-class‚ÄĚ into the search bar. You will see a number of different classification algorithms listed and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Each of the two-class algorithms is designed to predict a binary outcome.

Select Two-Class Neural Network and drag it to the workspace. Connect the output of the Two-Class Neural Network task to the leftmost input of the Train Model task.

8. Score the Model

After the model is trained, it is evaluated to determine how well it predicts delayed flights, so the model is scored by testing it against the Test Data which is the remaining 20% of the data we split to the second output of the Split Data task.

A. Connect test data

Type ‚Äúscore‚ÄĚ into the search bar and drag the¬†Score Model¬†task to the workspace.

Connect the output of Train Model to the left input of the Score Model task. Connect the Test Data, the right output of the Split Data task to the right input of the Score Model task as shown in the following screenshot. The output of this task is a scored dataset.

9. Evaluate Model

Next, the model is evaluated to determine its accuracy. This is done by evaluating the trained model by using the test data.

A. Determine accuracy of model

Type ‚Äúevaluate‚ÄĚ into the search bar and drag the¬†Evaluate Model¬†task to the bottom of the workspace.

Connect the output of the Score model task to the left input of the Evaluate Model task. The other input and output of the Evaluate Model task are not connected at this time.

You are now ready to run your experiment!

10. Run Experiment

A. Select Run

Select Run on the bottom toolbar. You will see green check marks appear on each task as it completes. The data is flowing through your Machine Learning Workflow, starting with data selection, being trained against the model, and finally being evaluated.

This process can take several minutes. When there is a green check mark on the Evaluate Model task the process is complete.

11. Post Run: Evaluate Model

It is usually necessary to evaluate the model, improve it, re-run it and repeat.

A. Evaluate The Model

When the entire experiment is completed, right click on the¬†Evaluate Model¬†task and select ‚ÄúEvaluation results | Visualize‚ÄĚ to see how well the model predicted delayed flights.

12. Interpreting Results

The first run of a model is a baseline and is considered a first step.

One useful piece of the evaluation results is the first graph the True Positive Rate versus False Positive Rate. This graph is a representation of the Area Under the Curve. A 45 degree flat line on this chart indicates guessing randomly. A slightly more accurate model than random guessing looks like the image below, our current model.

If you scroll down you can see the accuracy ‚Äď Higher accuracy is good! You can also see the number of false and true positive and negative predictions.

  • True positives¬†are how often your model correctly predicted a flight would be late
  • False positives¬†are how often your model predicted a flight would be late, when the flight was actually on time (your model predicted incorrectly)
  • True negatives¬†indicate how often your model correctly predicted a flight would be on time (arrDel15¬†is false)
  • False negatives¬†indicate how often your model predicted a flight would be on time, when in fact it was delayed (your model predicted incorrectly)

You want higher values for True positives and True negatives, you want low values for False Positives and False negatives.

From the model, there were no False Positives which is good. But, you can see from the results above my model predicted every single flight would be on time, not very helpful! I think we need to try something else…

Your challenge is to improve the model and try different experiments. Change the algorithm, change algorithm parameters, change project columns to get the best possible accuracy/true/false positive/negative results!

Note: As you make changes you will need to re-run the Experiment.

Good Luck!

As always thanks for reading , all views are my own and not those of the company I work for . . hope you found it interesting & starts you on a journey to understanding data science . . .

Many thanks to Beth Zeranski for creating to content and images for the experiment you can find her work on GitHub https://github.com/bethz/

Nigel Willson

Currently working as Strategist within the Enterprise Partner Group (EPG) at Microsoft, focussed bringing innovative and creative solutions to Enterprise customers enabling them to achieve more I have been working at Microsoft for the last 16 years, the last 4 years in EPG and the previous 12 years in Microsoft Consulting Services as a Senior Architect and Programme Manager, delivering solutions and programs of work based on Microsoft technologies and managing and leading teams of high performing individuals Specialties: Extensive experience in Consulting, Infrastructure Architecture Design and Programme Management for Microsoft based solutions. Building and leading highly effective teams.

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