Data annotation takes time. And for in-house teams, labeling data can be the proverbial bottleneck, limiting a company’s ability to quickly train and validate machine learning models.
By its very definition, artificial
intelligence refers to computer systems that can learn, reason, and act for
themselves, but where does this intelligence come from? For decades, the
collaborative intelligence of humans and machines has produced some of the
world’s leading technologies. And while there’s nothing glamorous about the
data being used to train today’s AI applications, the role of data annotation
in AI is nonetheless fascinating.
See also: New Tool Offers Help with Data Annotation
Poorly Labeled Data Leads to Compromised AI
Imagine reviewing hours of video footage – sorting
through thousands of driving scenes, to label all of the vehicles that come
into frame, and you’ve got data annotation. Data annotation is the process of
labeling images, video, audio, and other data sources, so the data is
recognizable to computer systems programmed for supervised-learning. This is
the intelligence behind AI algorithms.
For companies using AI to solve world
problems, improve operations, increase efficiencies, or otherwise gain a
competitive edge, training an algorithm is more than just collecting annotated
data, it’s sourcing superior quality training data and ensuring that data is
contributing to model validation, so applications can be brought to market
quickly, safely, and ethically.
Data is the most crucial element of machine learning.
Without data annotation, computers couldn’t be trained to see, speak, or
perform intelligent functions, yet obtaining datasets, and labeling training
data are among the top limitations to adopt AI, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Another known
limitation is data bias, which can creep in at any stage of the training data
lifecycle, but more often than not occurs from poor quality or inconsistent
The IDC shared that 50 percent of IT and data
professionals surveyed report data quality as a challenge in deploying AI
workloads, but where does quality data come from?
Open-source datasets are one way to collect
data for an ML model, but since many are curated for a specific use case, it
may not be useful for highly specialized needs. Also, the amount of data needed
to train your algorithm may vary based on the complexity of the problem you’re
trying to solve, and the complexity of your model.
The Waymo Open Dataset is the largest, most
diverse autonomous driving dataset to date, consisting of thousands of images
labeled with millions of bounding boxes and object classes—12 million 3D
bounding box labels and 1.2 million 2D bounding box labels, to be exact. Still,
Waymo has plans to continuously grow the size of this dataset even further.
Why? Because current, accurate, and refreshed
data is necessary to continuously train, validate, and maintain agile machine
learning models. There are always edge cases, and for some use cases, even more
data is needed. If the data is lacking in any way, those gaps compromise the
intelligence of the algorithm in the form of bias, false positives, poor
performance, and other issues.
Let’s say you’re searching for a new laptop.
When you type your specifications into the search bar, the results that come up
are the work of millions of labeled and indexed data points, from product SKUs
to product photos.
If your search returns results for a lunchbox,
a briefcase, or anything else mistaken for the signature clamshell of a laptop,
you’ve got a problem. You can’t find it, so you can’t buy it, and that company
just lost a sale.
This is why quality annotated data is so
important. Poor quality data has a direct correlation to biased and inaccurate
models, and in some cases, improving data quality is as simple as making sure
you have the right data in the first place.
Vulcan Inc., experienced the challenge of diversity in their dataset
first-hand while working to develop AI-enabled products that could record and
monitor African wildlife. While trying to detect cows in imagery, they realized
their model could not recognize cows in Africa, based on their dataset of cows
from Washington, alone. To get their ML model operating at peak performance,
they needed to create a training dataset of their own.
Labeling Data, Demanding for AI Teams
As you might expect, data annotation takes
time. And for in-house teams, labeling data can be the proverbial bottleneck,
limiting your ability to quickly train and validate machine learning models.
Labeling datasets is arguably one of the hardest parts of building AI. Cognilytica reports that 80 percent of AI
project time is spent aggregating, cleaning, labeling, and augmenting data to
be used in machine learning models. That’s before any model development or AI
training even begins.
And while labeling data is not an engineering
challenge, nor is it a data science problem, data annotation can prove
demanding for several reasons.
The first is the sheer amount of time it takes
to prepare large volumes of raw data for labeling. It’s no secret, human effort
is required to create datasets, and sorting irrelevant data from the desired
data is a task in and of itself.
Then, there’s the challenge of getting the
clean data labeled efficiently and accurately. A short video could take several
hours to annotate, depending on the object classes represented and their
density for the model to learn effectively.
An in-house team may not have enough dedicated
personnel to process the data in a timely manner, leaving model development at
a standstill until this task is complete. In some cases, the added pressure of
keeping the AI pipeline moving can lead to incomplete or partially labeled
data, or worse, blatant errors in the annotations.
Even in instances where existing personnel can
serve as the in-house data annotation team, and they have the training and
expertise to do it well, few companies have the technology infrastructure to
support an AI pipeline from ingestion to algorithm, securely and smoothly.
This is why organizations lacking the time for
data annotation, annotation expertise, clear strategies for AI adoption, or
technology infrastructure to support the training data lifecycle partner with
trusted providers to build smarter AI.
To improve its retail item coverage from 91 to 98
percent, Walmart worked with a specialized
data annotation partner to evaluate their data and ensure its accuracy
to train Walmart systems. With more than 2.5 million items cataloged during the
partnership, the Walmart team has been able to focus on model development,
rather than aggregating data.
How Data Annotation Providers Combine Humans and Tech
Data annotation providers have access to tools
and techniques that can help expedite the annotation process and improve the
accuracy of data labeling.
For starters, working day in and day out with
training data means these companies see a range of scenarios where data
annotation is seamless and where things could be improved. They can then pass
these learnings on to their clients, helping to create effective training data
strategies for AI development.
For organizations unsure of how to
operationalize AI in their business, an annotation provider can serve as a
trusted advisor to your machine learning team—asking the right questions, at
the right time, under the right circumstances.
A recent report shared that organizations spend 5x more
on internal data labeling, for every dollar spent on third-party services. This
may be due, in part, to the expense of assigning data scientists and ML engineers
labeling tasks. Still, there’s also something to be said about the established
platforms, workflows, and trained workforce that allow annotation service
providers to work more efficiently.
Working with a trusted partner often means
that the annotators assigned to your project receive training to understand the
context of the data being labeled. It also means you have a dedicated
technology platform for data labeling. Over time, your dedicated team of
labelers can begin to specialize in your specific use-case, and this expertise
results in lower costs and better scalability of your AI programs.
Technology platforms that incorporate
automation and reporting, such as automated QA, can also help improve labeling
efficiency by helping to prevent logical fallacies, expedite training for data
labelers, and ensure a consistent measure of annotation quality. This also
helps reduce the amount of manual QA time required by clients, as well as the
Few-click annotation is another example, which
uses machine learning to increase accuracy and reduce labeling time. With
few-click annotation, the time it would take a human to annotate several points
can be reduced down from two minutes to a few seconds. This combination of
machine learning and the support of a human, who does a few clicks, produces a
level of labeling precision previously not possible with human effort alone.
The human in the loop is not going away in the
AI supply chain. However,
more data annotation providers are also using pre and post-processing
technologies to support humans training AI. In pre-processing, machine learning
is used to convert raw data into clean datasets, using a script. This does not
replace or reduce data labeling, but it can help improve the quality of the
annotations and the labeling process.
There are no shortcuts to train AI, but a data
annotation provider can help expedite the labeling process, by leveraging
in-house technology platforms, and acting as an extension of your team, to
close the loop between data scientists and data labelers.
Credit: Google News