JSM 2018 [#1]

As our direct flight from Paris landed in the morning in Vancouver,  we found ourselves in the unusual situation of a few hours to kill before accessing our rental and where else better than a general introduction to deep learning in the first round of sessions at JSM2018?! In my humble opinion, or maybe just because it was past midnight in Paris time!, the talk was pretty uninspiring in missing the natural question of the possible connections between the construction of a prediction function and statistics. Watching improving performances at classifying human faces does not tell much more than creating a massively non-linear function in high dimensions with nicely designed error penalties. Most of the talk droned about neural networks and their fitting by back-propagation and the variations on stochastic gradient descent. Not addressing much rather natural (?) questions about choice of functions at each level, of the number of levels, of the penalty term, or regulariser, and even less the reason why no sparsity is imposed on the structure, despite the humongous number of parameters involved. What came close [but not that close] to sparsity is the notion of dropout, which is a sort of purely automated culling of the nodes, and which was new to me. More like a sort of randomisation that turns the optimisation criterion in an average. Only at the end of the presentation more relevant questions emerged, presenting unsupervised learning as density estimation, the pivot being the generative features of (most) statistical models. And GANs of course. But nonetheless missing an explanation as to why models with massive numbers of parameters can be considered in this setting and not in standard statistics. (One slide about deterministic auto-encoders was somewhat puzzling in that it seemed to repeat the “fiducial mistake”.)

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