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AI 101

What Are Nanobots? Understanding Nanobot Structure, Operation, and Uses

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As technology advances, things don’t always become bigger and better, objects also become smaller. In fact, nanotechnology is one of the fastest-growing technological fields, worth over 1 trillion USD, and it’s forecast to grow by approximately 17% over the next half-decade. Nanobots are a major part of the nanotechnology field, but what are they exactly and how do they operate? Let’s take a closer look at nanobots to understand how this transformative technology works and what it’s used for.

What Are Nanobots?

The field of nanotechnology is concerned with the research and development of technology approximately one to 100 nanometres in scale. Therefore, nanorobotics is focused on the creation of robots that are around this size. In practice, it’s difficult to engineer anything as small as one nanometer in scale and the term “nanorobotics” and “nanobot” is frequently applied to devices which are approximately 0.1 – 10 micrometers in size, which is still quite small.

It’s important to note that the term “nanorobot” is sometimes applied to devices which interact with objects at the nanoscale, manipulating nanoscale items. Therefore, even if the device itself is much larger, it may be considered a nanorobotic instrument. This article will focus on nanoscale robots themselves.

Much of the field of nanorobotics and nanobots is still in the theoretical phase, with research focused on solving the problems of construction at such a small scale. However, some prototype nanomachines and nanomotors have been designed and tested.

Most currently existing nanorobotic devices fall into one of four categories: switches, motors, shuttles, and cars.

Nanorobotic switches operate by being prompted to switch from an “off” state to an “on” state. Environmental factors are used to make the machine change shape, a process called conformational change. The environment is altered using processes like chemical reactions, UV light, and temperature, and the nanorobotic switches shift into different forms as a result, able to accomplish specific tasks.

Nanomotors are more complex than simple switches, and they utilize the energy created by the effects of the conformational change in order to move around and affect the molecules in the surrounding environment.

Shuttles are nanorobots that are capable of transporting chemicals like drugs to specific, targeted regions. The goal is to combine shuttles with nanorobot motors so that the shuttles are capable of a greater degree of movement through an environment.

Nanorobotic “cars” are the most advanced nanodevices at the moment, capable of moving independently with prompts from chemical or electromagnetic catalysts. The nanomotors that drive nanorobotic cars need to be controlled in order for the vehicle to be steered, and researchers are experimenting with various methods of nanorobotic control.

Nanorobotics researchers aim to synthesize these different components and technologies into nanomachines that can complete complex tasks, accomplished by swarms of nanobots working together.

Photo: Photo: ” Comparison of the sizes of nanomaterials with those of other common materials.” Sureshup vai Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Comparison_of_nanomaterials_sizes.jpg)

How Are Nanobots Created?

The field of nanorobotics is at the crossroads of many disciplines and the creation of nanobots involves the creation of sensors, actuators and motors. Physical modeling must be done as well, and all of this must be done at nanoscale. As mentioned above, nanomanipulation devices are used to assemble these nano-scale parts and manipulate artificial or biological components, which includes the manipulation of cells and molecules.

Nanorobotics engineers must be able to solve a multitude of problems. They have to address issues regarding sensation, control power, communications, and interactions between both inorganic and organic materials.

The size of a nanobot is roughly comparable to biological cells, and because of this fact future nanobots could be employed in disciplines like medicine and environmental preservation/remediation. Most “nanobots” that exist today are just specific molecules which have been manipulated to accomplish certain tasks. 

Complex nanobots are essentially just simple molecules joined together and manipulated with chemical processes. For instance, some nanobots are comprised of DNA, and they transport molecular cargo.

How Do Nanobots Operate?

Given the still heavily theoretical nature of nanobots, questions about how nanobots operate are answered with predictions rather than statements of fact. It’s likely that the first major uses for nanobots will be in the medical field, moving through the human body and accomplishing tasks like diagnosing diseases, monitoring vitals, and dispensing treatments. These nanobots will need to be able to navigate their way around the human body and move through tissues like blood vessels.

Navigation

In terms of nanobot navigation, there are a variety of techniques that nanobot researchers and engineers are investigating. One method of navigation is the utilization of ultrasonic signals for detection and deployment. A nanobot could emit ultrasonic signals that could be traced to locate the position of the nanobots, and the robots could then be guided to specific areas with the use of a special tool that directs their motion. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) devices could also be employed to track the position of nanobots, and early experiments with MRIs have demonstrated that the technology can be used to detect and even maneuver nanobots. Other methods of detecting and maneuvring nanobots include the use of X-rays, microwaves and radio-waves. At the moment, our control of these waves at the nano-scale is fairly limited, so new methods of utilizing these waves would have to be invented.

The navigation and detection systems described above are external methods, relying on the use of tools to move the nanobots. With the addition of onboard sensors, the nanobots could be more autonomous. For instance, chemical sensors included onboard nanobots could allow the robot to scan the surrounding environment and follow certain chemical markers to a target region.

Power

When it comes to powering the nanobots, there are also a variety of power solutions being explored by researchers. Solutions for powering nanobots include external power sources and onboard/internal power sources.

Internal power solutions include generators and capacitors. Generators onboard the nanobot could use the electrolytes found within the blood to produce energy, or nanobots could even be powered using the surrounding blood as a chemical catalyst that produces energy when combined with a chemical the nanobot carries with it. Capacitors operate similarly to batteries, storing electrical energy that could be used to propel the nanobot. Other options like tiny nuclear power sources have even been considered.

As far as external power sources go, incredibly small, thin wires could tether the nanobots to an outside power source. Such wires could be made out of miniature fiber optic cables, sending pulses of light down the wires and having the actual electricity be generated within the nanobot.

Other external power solutions include magnetic fields or ultrasonic signals. Nanobots could employ something called a piezoelectric membrane, which is capable of collecting ultrasonic waves and transforming them into electrical power. Magnetic fields can be used to catalyze electrical currents within a closed conducting loop contained onboard the nanobot. As a bonus, the magnetic field could also be used to control the direction of the nanobot.

Locomotion

Addressing the problem of nanobot locomotion requires some inventive solutions. Nanobots that aren’t tethered, or aren’t just free-floating in their environment, need to have some method of moving to their target locations. The propulsion system will need to be powerful and stable, able to propel the nanobot against currents in its surrounding environment, like the flow of the blood. Propulsion solutions under investigation are often inspired by the natural world, with researchers looking at how microscope organisms move through their environment. For instance, microorganisms often use long, whip-like tails called flagella to propel themselves, or they use a number of tiny, hair-like limbs dubbed cilia.

Researchers are also experimenting with giving robots small arm-like appendages that could allow the robot to swim, grip, and crawl. Currently, these appendages are controlled via magnetic fields outside the body, as the magnetic force prompts the robot’s arms to vibrate. An added benefit to this method of locomotion is that the energy for it comes from an outside source. This technology would need to be made even smaller to make it viable for true nanobots.

There are other, more inventive, propulsion strategies also under investigation. For instance, some researchers have proposed using capacitors to engineer an electromagnetic pump that would pull conductive fluids in and shoot it out like a jet, propelling the nanobot forward.

Regardless of the eventual application of nanobots, they must solve the problems described above, handling navigation, locomotion, and power.

What Are Nanobots Used For?

As mentioned, the first uses for nanobots will likely be in the medical field. Nanobots could be used to monitor for damage to the body, and potentially even facilitate the repair of this damage. Future nanobots could deliver medicine directly to the cells that need them. Currently, medicines are delivered orally or intravenously and they spread throughout the body instead of hitting just the target regions, causing side effects. Nanobots equipped with sensors could easily be used to monitor for changes in regions of cells, reporting changes at the first sign of damage or malfunction.

We are still a long way away from these hypothetical applications, but progress is being made all the time. As an example, in 2017 scientists created nanobots that targeted cancer cells and attacked them with a miniaturized drill, killing them. This year, a group of researchers from ITMO University designed a nanobot composed of DNA fragments, capable of destroying pathogenic RNA strands. DNA-based nanobots are also currently capable of transporting molecular cargo, The nanobot is made of three different DNA sections, maneuvering with a DNA “leg” and carrying specific molecules with the use of an “arm”.

Beyond medical applications, research is being done regarding the use of nanobots for the purposes of environmental cleanup and remediation. Nanobots could potentially be used to remove toxic heavy metals and plastics from bodies of water. The nanobots could carry compounds that render toxic substances inert when combined together, or they could be used to degrade plastic waste through similar processes. Research is also being done on the use of nanobots to facilitate the production of extremely small computer chips and processors, essentially using nanobots to produce microscale computer circuits.

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Blogger and programmer with specialties in Machine Learning and Deep Learning topics. Daniel hopes to help others use the power of AI for social good.

AI 101

What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

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A great deal of the work that people do every day doesn’t involve any of their creativity or unique skills, being highly tedious and simple tasks like categorizing emails and messages, updating spreadsheets, processing transactions, and more. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is an emerging technology that often leverages aspects of artificial intelligence to automate these tasks, with the goal of enabling workers to devote their attention to more important tasks. RPA can be accomplished with a variety of different techniques, tools, and algorithms, and the corrected applications of RPA can bring organizations many benefits.

Defining Robotic Process Automation

Despite having the name “robot” in it, Robotic Process Automation has nothing to do with physical robots. Rather, the robots referred to in RPA are software bots, and RPA systems are essentially just a collection of bots that carry out specific, often tedious tasks. RPA bots can run on either physical or virtual machines, and they can be directed to carry out tasks by the software’s user. RPA interfaces are intended to allow even people unfamiliar with the construction of the bots to define a set of tasks for the bot to perform.

As previously mentioned, the main purpose of an RPA is to automate the many repetitive, mundane tasks that people often have to do in a workplace. Saving time and resources is the goal of RPA. The tasks that RPA is used to carry out need to be fairly simple, with a concrete series of steps to follow to accomplish this task.

Benefits of RPA

When properly utilized, RPA technology can free up timer, personnel, and resources, letting them be applied to more important tasks and challenges. RPA can be used to enable better customer service by handling the first interactions with customers and directing them to the right customer service agent. RPA systems can also be used to improve how data is collected and handled. For instance, when transactions occur they can be digitized and automatically entered into a database.

RPA systems can also be used to ensure that the operations of a business comply with established standards and regulations. RPA can also meaningfully reduce human error rates and log actions taken so that if there if the system does produce an error, the events that led to the error can easily be identified. Ultimately, the benefits of RPA apply to any situation where a process can be made more efficient by automating many of the steps needed to complete that process.

How Does RPA Work?

The exact methods RPA platforms and bots use to carry out their task vary, but they often employ some machine learning and AI algorithms, as well as computer vision algorithms.

Machine learning and AI techniques may be employed to let the bots learn which actions are correlated with the goals the operator has defined. However, RPA platforms often carry out most of their actions according to rules, therefore acting more like traditional programs than AI. As a result, there is some debate regarding whether or not RPA systems should be classified as AI systems.

Even so, RPA often works in concert with AI technologies and algorithms. Deep neural networks can be used to interpret complex image and text data, enabling the bots to determine what actions need to be carried out to handle this data in the manner the user has specified, even if the actions the bot takes is strictly rules-based. For instance, convolutional neural networks can be used to allow a network to interpret images on a screen and react based upon how those images are classified.

What Processes Can Be Handled By RPA?

Examples of tasks that can be handled by RPA systems include basic data manipulation, transaction processing, and communicating with other digital systems. A RPA system could be set up to collect data from specific sources or clean data that has been received. In general, there are four criteria that a task must fulfill to be a good candidate for automation with RPA.

First, the process must be rule-based, with very specific instructions and ground facts that can be used to determine what to do with the information the system encounters. Secondly, the process should occur at specific times or have a definable start condition. Thirdly, the process should have clear inputs and outputs. Finally, the task should have volume, it should deal with a sizable amount of information and require a fair amount of time to complete so that it would make sense to automate the process.

Based on these principles, let’s examine some potential use cases for RPA.

One way that RPA could be used is to expedite the process of handling customer returns. Returns are typically a costly, time-intensive endeavor. When a return is requested, the customer service agent has to send a number of messages that confirm the return and how the customer would like their money refunded, update current inventory in the system, and then after making the payment to the customer update the sales figures. Much of this could be handled by an RPA that ascertains which items are being returned and how the customer wants their refund dispersed. The RPA would just use rules that take as an input the product being returned and the customer’s information and output a complete refund document that the agent would just have to glance at and approve.

Another potential use case for RPA is for retailers who would like to automate aspects of their supply chain management. RPA could be used to keep items in stock, checking inventory levels whenever an item is sold and when the stock falls below a certain threshold orders for replacements can be made.

Drawbacks To Using RPA

While RPA systems have the potential to save companies who use them time, money, and effort, they are not suited to every task. RPA implementations may often fail due to the constraints of the system they operate in. If not properly designed and implemented, RPA systems can also exacerbate currently existing problems as they operate on rules that may cease to be applicable as situations evolve. For example, if an RPA system is instructed to order replacements of items whenever a stock falls too low, it may not be able to adjust to fluctuations in demand and continue ordering large batches of products even as the overall demand for those products declines. Scaling RPA platforms up across a company also proves to be difficult, as the more rules-based a system-becomes the more inflexible it becomes.

Additionally, the act of installing thousands of bots across a system might be much more time-intensive and costly than expected, potentially costly enough that the savings the RPA system brings don’t offset the costs of installation. The economic impacts of RPA systems can be difficult to predict and the relationship between automation and cost reduction is not a linear one. Automating 30% of a task will not necessarily reduce a company’s costs by 30%.

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What is the Turing Test and Why Does it Matter?

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If you’ve been around Artificial Intelligence (AI) you have undoubtedly heard of ‘The Turing Test‘.  This was a test first proposed by Alan Turing in 1950, the test was designed to be the ultimate experiment on whether or not an AI has achieved human level intelligence. Conceptually, if the AI is able to pass the test, it has achieved intelligence that is equivalent to, or indistinguishable from that of a human.

We will explore who Alan Turing is, what the test is, why it matters, and why the definition of the test may need to evolve.

Who is Alan Turing?

Turing is an eccentric British Mathematician who is recognized for his futurist ground breaking ideas.

In 1935, at the age of 22 his work on probability theory won him a Fellowship of King’s College, University of Cambridge. His abstract mathematical ideas served to push him in a completely different direction in a field that was yet to be invented.

In 1936, Turing published a paper that is now recognized as the foundation of computer science. This is where he invented the concept of a ‘Universal Machine’ that could decode and perform any set of instructions.

In 1939, Turing was recruited by the British government’s code-breaking department. At the time Germany was using what is called an ‘enigma machine‘ to encipher all its military and naval signals. Turing rapidly developed a new machine (the ‘Bombe’) which was capable of breaking Enigma messages on an industrial scale. This development has been deemed as instrumental in assisting in pushing back the aggression’s of Nazi Germany.

In 1946, Turing returned to working on his revolutionary idea published in 1936 to develop an electronic computer, capable of running various types of computations. He produced a detailed design for what was was called the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE.)

In 1950, Turing published his seminal work asking if a “Machine Can Think?“.  This paper completely transformed both computer science and AI.

In 1952, after being reported to the police by a young man, Turing was convicted of gross indecency due to his homosexual activities.  Due to this his security clearance for the government was revoked, and his career was destroyed. In order to punish him he was chemically castrated.

With his life shattered he was later discovered in his home by his cleaner on 8 June, 1954. He had died from cyanide poisoning the day before. A partly eaten apple lay next to his body. The coroner’s verdict was suicide.

Fortunately, his legacy continues to live on.

What is the Turing Test?

In 1950, Alan Turing published a seminal paper titled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” in Mind magazine. In this detailed paper the question “Can Machines Think?” was proposed. The paper suggested abandoning the quest to define if a machine can think, to instead test the machine with the ‘imitation game’. This simple game is played with three people:

  • a man (A)
  • a woman (B),
  • and an interrogator (C) who may be of either sex.

The concept of the game is that the interrogator stays in a room that is separate from both the man (A) and the woman (B), the goal is for the interrogator to identify who the man is, and who the woman is. In this instance the goal of the man (A) is to deceive the interrogator, meanwhile the woman (B) can attempt to help the interrogator (C). To make this fair, no verbal cues can be used, instead only typewritten questions and answers are sent back and forth. The question then becomes: How does the interrogator know who to trust?

The interrogator only knows them by the labels X and Y, and at the end of the game he simply states either ‘X is A and Y is B’ or ‘X is B and Y is A’.

The question then becomes, if we remove the man (A) or the woman (B), and replace that person with an intelligent machine, can the machine use its AI system to trick the interrogator (C) into believing that it’s a man or a woman? This is in essence the nature of the Turing Test.

In other words if you were to communicate with an AI system unknowingly, and you assumed that the ‘entity’ on the other end was a human, could the AI deceive you indefinitely?

Why the Turing Test Matters

In Alan Turing’s paper he alluded to the fact that he believed that the Turing Test could eventually be beat. He states: “by the year 2000 I believe that in about fifty years’ time it will be possible to programme computers, with a storage capacity of about 109, to make them play the imitation game so well that an average interrogator will not have more than 70 per cent, chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning.

When looking at the Turing Test through a modern lens it seems very possible that an AI system could trick a human for five minutes. How often have humans interacted with support chatbots not knowing if the chatbot is a human or a bot?

There have been many reports of the Turing Test being passed. In 2014, a chatbot program named Eugene Goostman, which simulates a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, is said to have passed the Turing test at an event organised by the University of Reading. The chatbot apparently convinced 33% of the judges at the Royal Society in London that it was human. Nonetheless critics were fast to point out the inadequacies of the test, the fact that so many judges were not convinced, the duration of the test (only 5 minutes), as well as the lack of forthcoming evidence for this achievement.

Nonetheless, it an age of Natural Language Processing (NLP), with its subfields of Natural-language understanding (NLU) and natural-language interpretation (NLI), the question needs to be asked, if a machine is asking and answering questions without fully understanding the context behind what it says is the machine truly intelligent?

After all, if you review the technology behind Watson, a computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language, developed by IBM to defeat Jeopardy champions, it becomes apparent that Watson was able to beat the world champions by accessing all of the world’s knowledge via the internet, without actually understanding the context behind this language. Similar to a search engine, keywords and reference points were made. If an AI can achieve this level of comprehension, then we should consider that based on today’s advancing technology, deceiving a human for 5 or 10 minutes is simply not setting the bar high enough.

Should the Turing Test Evolve?

The Turing Test has done a remarkable job of standing the test of time. Nonetheless, AI has evolved dramatically since 1950. Every time AI achieves a feat of which we claimed only humans were capable of we set the bar higher. It will only be a matter of time until AI is able to consistently pass the Turing Test as we understand it.

When reviewing the history of AI, the ultimate barometer of whether or not AI can achieve human level intelligence is almost always based on if it can defeat humans at various games. In 1949, Claude Shannon published his thoughts on the topic of how a computer might be made to play chess as this was considered the ultimate summit of human intelligence.

It wasn’t until February 10, 1996, after a grueling three hour match that world chess champion Garry Kasparov lost the first game of a six-game match against Deep Blue, an IBM computer capable of evaluating 200 million moves per second. It wasn’t long until Chess was no longer considered the pinnacle of human intelligence. Chess was then replaced with the game of Go, a game which originated in China over 3000 years ago. The bar for AI achieving human level intelligence was moved up.

Fast forward to October 2015, AlphaGo played its first match against the reigning three-time European Champion, Mr Fan Hui. AlphaGo won the first ever game against a Go professional with a score of 5-0. Go is considered to be the most sophisticated game in the world with its 10360 possible moves. All of a sudden the bar was moved up again.

Eventually the argument was that an AI had to be able to defeat teams of players at MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games). OpenAI quickly rose to the challenge by using deep reinforcement learning.

It is due to this consistent moving of the proverbial bar that we should reconsider a new modern definition of the Turing Test. The current test may rely too much on deception, and the technology that is in a chatbot. Potentially, with the evolution of robotics we may require that for an AI to truly achieve human level intelligence, the AI will need to interact and “live” in our actual world, versus a game environment or a simulated environment with its defined rules.

If instead of deceiving us,  a robot can can interact with us like any other human, by having conversations, proposing ideas and solutions, maybe only then will the Turing Test be passed. The ultimate version of the Turing Test may be when an AI approaches a human, and attempts to convince us that it is self-aware.

At this point, we will also have achieved Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). It would then be inevitable than the AI/robot would rapidly surpass us in intelligence.

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What is Data Science?

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The field of data science seems to just get bigger and more popular everyday. According to LinkedIn, data science was one of the fastest-growing job fields in 2017 and in 2020 Glassdoor ranked the job of data science as one of the three best jobs within the United States. Given the growing popularity of data science, it’s no surprise that more people are getting interested in the field. Yet what is data science exactly?

Let’s get acquainted with data science, taking some time to define data science, explore how big data and artificial intelligence is changing the field, learn about some common data science tools, and examine some examples of data science.

Defining Data Science

Before we can explore any data science tools or examples, we’ll want to get a concise definition of data science.

Defining “data science” is actually a little tricky, because the term is applied to many different tasks and methods of inquiry and analysis. We can begin by reminding ourselves of what the term “science” means. Science is the systematic study of the physical and natural world through observation and experimentation, aiming to advance human understanding of natural processes. The important words in that definition are “observation” and “understanding”.

If data science is the process of understanding the world from patterns in data, then the responsibility of a data scientist is to transform data, analyze data, and extract patterns from data. In other words, a data scientist is provided with data and they use a number of different tools and techniques to preprocess the data (get it ready for analysis) and then analyze the data for meaningful patterns.

The role of a data scientist is similar to the role of a traditional scientist. Both are concerned with the analysis of data to support or reject hypotheses about how the world operates, trying to make sense of patterns in the data to improve our understanding of the world. Data scientists make use of the same scientific methods that a traditional scientist does. A data scientist starts by gathering observations about some phenomena they would like to study. They then formulate a hypothesis about the phenomenon in question and try to find data that nullifies their hypothesis in some way.

If the hypothesis isn’t contradicted by the data, they might be able to construct a theory, or model, about how the phenomenon works, which they can go on to test again and again by seeing if it holds true for other similar datasets. If a model is sufficiently robust, if it explains patterns well and isn’t nullified during other tests, it can even be used to predict future occurrences of that phenomenon.

A data scientist typically won’t gather their own data through an experiment. They usually won’t design experiments with controls and double-blind trials to discover confounding variables that might interfere with a hypothesis. Most data analyzed by a data scientist will be data gained through observational studies and systems, which is a way in which the job of a data scientist might differ from the job of a traditional scientist, who tends to perform more experiments.

That said, a data scientist might be called on to do a form of experimentation called A/B testing where tweaks are made to a system that gathers data to see how the data patterns change.

Regardless of the techniques and tools used, data science ultimately aims to improve our understanding of the world by making sense out of data, and data is gained through observation and experimentation.  Data science is the process of using algorithms, statistical principles, and various tools and machines to draw insights out of data, insights that help us understand patterns in the world around us.

What Do Data Scientists Do?

You might be seeing that any activity that involves the analysis of data in a scientific manner can be called data science, which is part of what makes defining data science so hard. To make it more clear, let’s explore some of the activities that a data scientist might do on a daily basis.

Data science brings many different disciplines and specialties together. Photo: Calvin Andrus via Wikimeedia Commons, CC BY SA 3.0 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DataScienceDisciplines.png)

On any given day, a data scientist might be asked to: create data storage and retrieval schema, create data ETL (extract, transform, load) pipelines and clean up data, employ statistical methods, craft data visualizations and dashboards, implement artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, make recommendations for actions based on the data.

Let’s break the tasks listed above down a little.

Data Storage, Retrieval, ETL, and Cleanup

A data scientist may be required to handle the installation of technologies needed to store and retrieve data, paying attention to both hardware and software. The person responsible for this position may also be referred to as “Data Engineer”. However, some companies include these responsibilities under the role of data scientists. A data scientist may also need to create, or assist in the creation of, ETL pipelines. Data very rarely comes formatted just as a data scientist needs. Instead, the data will need to be received in a raw form from the data source, transformed into a usable format, and preprocessed (things like standardizing the data, dropping redundancies, and removing corrupted data).

Statistical Methods

The application of statistics is necessary to turn simply looking at data and interpreting it into an actual science. Statistical methods are used to extract relevant patterns from datasets, and a data scientist needs to be well versed in statistical concepts. They need to be able to discern meaningful correlations from spurious correlations by controlling for confounding variables. They also need to know the right tools to use to determine which features in the dataset are important to their model/have predictive power. A data scientist needs to know when to use a regression approach vs. a classification approach, and when to care about the mean of a sample vs. the median of a sample. A data scientist just wouldn’t be a scientist without these crucial skills.

Data Visualization

A crucial part of a data scientist’s job is communicating their findings to others. If a data scientist can’t effectively communicate their findings to others, than the implications of their findings don’t matter. A data scientist should be an effective story-teller as well. This means producing visualizations that communicate relevant points about the dataset and the patterns discovered within it. There is a large number of different data visualization tools that a data scientist might use, and they may visualize data for the purposes of initial, basic exploration (exploratory data analysis) or visualize the results that a model produces.

Recommendations and Business Applications

A data scientist needs to have some intuition of the requirements and goals of their organization or business. A data scientist needs to understand these things because they need to know what types of variables and features they should be analyzing, exploring patterns that will help their organization achieve its goals. The data scientists need to be aware of the constraints that they are operating under and the assumptions that the organization’s leadership are making.

Machine Learning and AI

Machine learning and other artificial intelligence algorithms and models are tools used by data scientists to analyze data, identify patterns within data, discern relationships between variables, and make predictions about future events.

Traditional Data Science vs. Big Data Science

As data collection methods have gotten more sophisticated and databases larger, a difference has arisen between traditional data science and “big data” science.

Traditional data analytics and data science is done with descriptive and exploratory analytics, aiming to find patterns and analyze the performance results of projects. Traditional data analytics methods often focus on just past data and current data. Data analysts often deal with data that has already been cleaned and standardized, while data scientists often deal with complex and dirty data. More advanced data analytics and data science techniques might be used to predict future behavior, although this is more often done with big data, as predictive models often need large amounts of data to be reliably constructed.

“Big data” refers to data that is too large and complex to be handled with traditional data analytics and science techniques and tools. Big data is often collected through online platforms and advanced data transformation tools are used to make the large volumes of data ready for inspection by data science. As more data is collected all the time, more of a data scientists job involves the analysis of big data.

Data Science Tools

Common data science tools include tools to store data, carry out exploratory data analysis, model data, carry out ETL, and visualize data. Platforms like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud all offer tools to help data scientists store, transform, analyze, and model data. There are also standalone data science tools like Airflow (data infrastructure) and Tableau (data visualization and analytics).

In terms of machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms used to model data, they are often provided through data science modules and platforms like TensorFlow, PyTorch, and the Azure Machine-learning studio. These platforms like data scientists make edits to their datasets, compose machine learning architectures, and train machine learning models.

Other common data science tools and libraries include SAS (for statistical modeling), Apache Spark (for the analysis of streaming data), D3.js (for interactive visualizations in the browser), and Jupyter (for interactive, sharable code blocks and visualizations).

Photo: Seonjae Jo via Flickr, CC BY SA 2.0 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/130860834@N02/19786840570)

Examples of Data Science

Examples of data science and its applications are everywhere. Data science has applications in everything from food delivery, sports, traffic, and health. Data is everywhere and so data science can be applied to everything.

In terms of food, Uber is investing in an expansion to its ride-sharing system focused on the delivery of food, Uber Eats. Uber Eats needs to get people their food in a timely fashion, while it is still hot and fresh. In order for this to occur, data scientists for the company need to use statistical modeling that takes into account aspects like distance from restaurants to delivery points, holiday rushes, cooking time, and even weather conditions, all considered with the goal of optimizing delivery times.

Sports statistics are used by team managers to determine who the best players are and form strong, reliable teams that will win games. One notable example is the data science documented by Michael Lewis in the book Moneyball, where the general manager of the Oakland Athletics team analyzed a variety of statistics to identify quality players that could be signed to the team at relatively low cost.

The analysis of traffic patterns is critical for the creation of self-driving vehicles. Self-driving vehicles must be able to predict the activity around them and respond to changes in road conditions, like the increased stopping distance required when it is raining, as well as the presence of more cars on the road during rush hour. Beyond self-driving vehicles, apps like Google Maps analyze traffic patterns to tell commuters how long it will take them to get to their destination using various routes and forms of transportation.

In terms of health data science, computer vision is often combined with machine learning and other AI techniques to create image classifiers capable of examining things like X-rays, FMRIs, and ultrasounds to see if there are any potential medical issues that might show up in the scan. These algorithms can be used to help clinicians diagnose disease.

Ultimately, data science covers numerous activities and brings together aspects of different disciplines. However, data science is always concerned with telling compelling, interesting stories from data, and with using data to better understand the world.

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