Thursday, March 20, 2014

Data Mining, machine learning and statistics.

How does one tell data mining, machine learning and statistics apart ?

If you spend enough time wandering the increasingly crowded landscape of Big Data-istan, you'll come across the warring tribes of Datamine, MachLearn and Stat, whose constant bickering will make you think fondly of the People's front of Judea:

Cosma Shalizi has what I think is a useful delineation of the three tribes that isn't prejudicial to any of them ("Stats is just inefficient learning !", "MachLearn is just the reinvention of statistics!" "DataMine is a series of hacks!"). It goes something like this:

  • Data mining is the art of finding patterns in data.
  • Statistics is the mathematical science associated with drawing reliable inferences from noisy data
  • Machine learning is [the branch of computer science] that develops technology for automated inference (his original characterization was as a branch of engineering).
I like this characterization because it emphasizes the different focus: data mining is driven by applications, machine learning by algorithms, and statistics by mathematical foundations. 

This is not to say that the foci don't overlap: there's a lot of algorithm design in data mining and plenty of mathematics in ML. And of course applied stats work is an art as much as a science. 

But the primary driving force is captured well. 
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