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How is Grok's algorithm different?

Subutai AhmadSubutai AhmadVP Research
How is Grok's algorithm different?

NOTE: Numenta has announced a strategic partnership with Avik Partners, please read more about the future of Grok for IT Analytics.

A question we get all the time from machine learning fans is: “How does Numenta’s Hierarchical Temporal Memory (the HTM) compare to traditional machine learning algorithms?” There are many ways to answer this question. In this blog entry, I will focus on one specific difference, perhaps the most fundamental one.

First a bit of background: There is a well known truism in machine learning, the "No Free Lunch Theorem," which states that no algorithm is inherently better than any other algorithm. What distinguishes one algorithm from the next are the inherent assumptions and how well those assumptions fit the problem domain. For example, if you are predicting data that lies on a straight line, nothing is going to beat linear fitting. If the data lies on a circle, it’s hard to imagine a worse technique.

By far the most common assumption made in machine learning is the "i.i.d" assumption. In statistics, i.i.d. stands for independently and identically distributed, which states that every input record comes from the same probability distribution and is statistically independent of previous and future records. This is a very useful assumption - it makes the math easier, leads to the Central Limit Theorem, allows you to derive accuracy bounds, etc. Just about every popular technique, such as regression, support vector machines, neural networks, Bayesian networks, random forests, and decision trees rely on this assumption.

Unfortunately, when you think about the real world of streaming data, this assumption is just plain wrong. Your weekly revenue numbers are not i.i.d. Last week’s numbers are a better predictor than the numbers from 13 weeks ago. Yesterday’s weather is correlated with today’s. The web log for a customer navigating an e-commerce website is likely to follow specific sequences. Your GPS coordinates from 5 minutes ago are an excellent predictor of your current location. The list is endless. Streaming temporal patterns are the very antithesis of i.i.d.

The HTM is an inherently temporal learning algorithm, and doesn’t care about i.i.d. It greedily constructs sequences and does not assume independence. If you saw a particular revenue pattern the last two weeks, it assumes you are more likely to see it this week. If you haven’t seen a pattern for several years, it will likely forget it. Also, HTM assumes that the underlying distribution can change. This is what makes it online or adaptive. If your revenue jumps because you just added an important customer, it will adapt. It inherently assumes your data stream contains sequences and is constantly changing. We didn’t invent this - the core ideas are inherent in the neocortex of the brain and lend themselves well to streaming data analytics.

HTM is not the only technique to break the i.i.d. assumption. Other algorithms, such as Hidden Markov Models and many time series algorithms, also relax that assumption. So, how is HTM different from HMMs? Good question. I guess we’ll just have to tackle that in another blog entry…stay tuned!

Subutai AhmadSubutai AhmadVP Research