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Garbage in, garbage out: Why data quality is critical to AI

Since AI models are designed to process and make decisions based on data, data quality is critical to the model's accuracy and reliability.

Data is the foundation of any AI system, no matter how complex or performant the system. Since AI models are designed to take in data, process it, and then make decisions or predictions based on that data, the quality of the data is critical to the accuracy and reliability of the model. Poor quality data can lead to incorrect results or negative outcomes, while high quality data can provide actionable insights and meaningful predictions. But what determines data quality? There are several factors that can affect the quality of data, from quantity to security.

Quantity

When it comes to AI, the quantity of data is paramount. The more data a model has access to, the better it can learn and perform. Often, it is a sheer numbers game and larger models outperform smaller ones. State-of-the-art AI models are now trained on hundreds of billions of datapoints.

That said, emerging techniques are working to bypass data quantity requirements. For example, zero-shot and few-shot learning can train a model on limited data. Additionally, the advent of foundation models has brought a new perspective to the role of data in AI systems. Foundation models such as GPT-3 require a massive amount of data, as they are pre-trained on trillions of tokens. However, once these models are built, they become quite sample-efficient for downstream tasks, requiring significantly less data to adapt to specific applications. This approach allows AI systems to leverage the power of foundation models while minimizing the need for extensive data collection in downstream tasks.

Accuracy

Though quantity over quality is generally true for AI models, the accuracy of the data itself is still critical, as inaccurate data can lead to incorrect results. Many AI models are trained on internet data, and as we all know, the internet can be home to misinformation. It’s vital that data is drawn from credible sources.

Bias

Related to accuracy, bias occurs when the data is not representative of the target population. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including the data itself, the algorithms used to process the data, and the data pre-processing techniques used to prepare the data for the model. Bias can also be caused by the data collection process, which may be biased towards certain types of data or certain types of users.

While collecting data and developing AI models, it is important to be aware of potential sources of bias and take steps to mitigate them. Bias can lead to unfair treatment of certain groups of people, which can have serious ethical implications and tangible outcomes. For example, if an AI system used to diagnose diseases hasn’t been trained on pediatric data, it will be biased toward adults and will likely not accurately diagnose children.

Diversity

It’s also important to consider how effectively the data will be able to solve for a problem or use case. A diverse dataset that represents various aspects of the problem domain can help AI models generalize better and provide more robust predictions. Ensuring that the data covers a wide range of scenarios, edge cases, and variations can improve the AI system’s ability to adapt to new or unseen data.

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Curation and pre-processing

The process of cleaning, organizing, and transforming data before using it for AI model training is crucial for improving data quality. Proper data curation and pre-processing can help address issues like inconsistencies, missing values, and noise in the data, ultimately leading to better AI performance.

Timeliness

It’s important to understand how up to date the data is, as it can impact a model’s output. Older data may not be relevant to the current situation or it may have been replaced by newer data. That doesn’t mean an older model wouldn’t be accurate, but a more current model could be more accurate.

Privacy and security

As AI systems rely heavily on data, it’s crucial to consider privacy and security concerns associated with data collection, storage, and processing. Sensitive information should be properly protected and anonymized to maintain user trust and comply with data protection regulations.

AI is only as good as its data

All of these factors can affect the quality of the data and thus the factuality and reliability of the AI system’s output. Remember that AI doesn’t actually know anything—it is simply using math to predict outcomes. It can’t assess whether the data feeding its algorithms are true or false, so it will continue spitting out falsehoods if its data is inaccurate.

Poor quality data can have serious consequences due to inaccurate predictions or decisions. In order for an AI system to produce more accurate results, it is essential that it is trained on high quality data.

There is a saying in AI: garbage in, garbage out. If you train your model on bad data, it will produce bad results. If you train it on good data, it is more likely to produce good results. It’s as simple as that: a model will only ever be as good as its data.

The information regarding AI tools provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute a recommendation, development, security assessment advice of any kind.

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Sara Walker

Content Marketing Associate
Sara has a background in numerous word-related fields, including nonprofit communications, literary blogging, community media, English tutoring, and now content marketing. She holds a BA in English from Arizona State University.

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