[Idnet] A few ideas/suggestions to get us going

David Meyer <dmm@1-4-5.net> Wed, 22 March 2017 17:29 UTC

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From: David Meyer <dmm@1-4-5.net>
Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:29:11 -0700
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Subject: [Idnet] A few ideas/suggestions to get us going
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I thought I'd try to get some discussion going by outlining some of my
views as to why networking is lagging other areas in the development and
application of Machine Learning (ML). In particular, networking is way
behind what we might call the "perceptual tasks" (vision, NLP, robotics,
etc) as well as other areas (medicine, finance, ...). The attached slide
from one of my decks tries to summarize the situation, but I'll give a bit
of an outline below.

So why is networking lagging many other fields when it comes to the
application of machine learning? There are several reasons which I'll try
to outline here (I was fortunate enough to discuss this with the
packetpushers crew a few weeks ago, see [0]). These are in no particular

First, we don't have a "useful" theory of networking (UTON). One way to
think about what such a theory would look like is by analogy to what we see
with the success of convolutional neural networks (CNNs) not only for
vision but now for many other tasks. In that case there is a theory of how
vision works, built up from concepts like receptive fields, shared weights,
simple and complex cells, etc. For example, the input layer of a CNN isn't
fully connected; rather connections reflect the receptive field of the
input layer, which is in a way that is "inspired" by biological vision
(being very careful with "biological inspiration"). Same with the
alternation of convolutional and pooling layers; these loosely model the
alternation of simple and complex cells in the primary visual cortex (V1),
the secondary visual cortex(V2) and the Brodmann area (V3). BTW, such a
theory seems to be required for transfer learning [1], which we'll need if
we don't want every network to be analyzed in an ad-hoc, one-off style
(like we see today).

The second thing that we need to think about is publicly available
standardized data sets. Examples here include MNIST, ImageNet, and many
others. The result of having these data sets has been the steady ratcheting
down of error rates on tasks such as object and scene recognition, NLP, and
others to super-human levels. Suffice it to say we have nothing like these
data sets for networking. Networking data sets today are largely
proprietary, and because there is no UTON, there is no real way to compare
results between them.

Third, there is a large skill set gap. Network engineers (us!) typically
don't have the mathematical background required to build effective machine
learning at scale. See [2] for an outline of some of the mathematical
skills that are essential for effective ML. There is a lot more to this,
involving how progress is made in ML (open data, open source, open models,
in general open science and associated communities, see e.g., OpenAi [3],
Distill [4], and many others). In any event we need build community and
gain new skills if we want to be able to develop and apply state of the art
machine learning algorithms to network data, at scale. The bottom line is
that it will be difficult if not impossible to be effective in the ML space
if we ourselves don't understand how it works and further, if we can build
explainable systems (noting that explaining what the individual neurons in
a deep neural network are doing is notoriously difficult; that said much
progress is being made). So we want to build explainable, end-to-end
trained systems, and to accomplish this we ourselves need to understand how
these algorithms work, but in training and in inference.

This email is already TL;DR but I'll add one more here: We need to learn
control, not just prediction. Since we live in an inherently adversarial
environment we need to take advantage of Reinforcement Learning as well as
the various attacks being formulated against ML; [5] gives one interesting
example of attacks against policy networks using adversarial examples. See
also slides 31 and 32 of [6] for some more on this topic.

I hope some of this gets us thinking about the problems we need to solve in
order to be successful in the ML space. There's plenty more of this on
http://www.1-4-5.net/~dmm/ml and http://www.1-4-5.net/~dmm/vita.html.
I'm looking forward to the discussion.




[1]  http://sebastianruder.com/transfer-learning/index.html
[2]  http://datascience.ibm.com/blog/the-mathematics-of-machine-learning/
[3] https://openai.com/blog/
[4] http://distill.pub/
[5] http://rll.berkeley.edu/adversarial/arXiv2017_AdversarialAttacks.pdf
[6]  http://www.1-4-5.net/~dmm/ml/talks/2016/cor_ml4networking.pptx