Reproducibility Crisis in AI Too

Science: AI researchers allege that machine learning is alchemy
Ali Rahimi, a researcher in artificial intelligence (AI) at Google in San Francisco, California, took a swipe at his field last December—and received a 40-second ovation for it. Speaking at an AI conference, Rahimi charged that machine learning algorithms, in which computers learn through trial and error, have become a form of "alchemy." Researchers, he said, do not know why some algorithms work and others don't, nor do they have rigorous criteria for choosing one AI architecture over another. Now, in a paper presented on 30 April at the International Conference on Learning Representations in Vancouver, Canada, Rahimi and his collaborators document examples of what they see as the alchemy problem and offer prescriptions for bolstering AI's rigor.

"There's an anguish in the field," Rahimi says. "Many of us feel like we're operating on an alien technology."

The issue is distinct from AI's reproducibility problem, in which researchers can't replicate each other's results because of inconsistent experimental and publication practices. It also differs from the "black box" or "interpretability" problem in machine learning: the difficulty of explaining how a particular AI has come to its conclusions. As Rahimi puts it, "I'm trying to draw a distinction between a machine learning system that's a black box and an entire field that's become a black box."

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