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The Probe Method: A Reliable and Intuitive Feature Selection Technique
Introduce a bad feature to remove other bad features.
Real-world ML development is all about achieving a sweet balance between speed, model size, and performance.
One common way to:
Reduce size, and
Maintain (or minimally degrade) performance…
…is by using featuring selection.
As the name suggests, the idea is to select the most useful subset of features from the dataset.
Here, I have often found the “Probe Method” to be pretty reliable and practical.
The animation below depicts how it works:
Step 1) Add a random feature (noise).
Step 2) Train a model on the new dataset.
Step 3) Measure feature importance.
Step 4) Discard original features that rank below the random feature.
Step 5) Repeat until convergence.
This makes intuitive sense as well.
If a feature’s importance is ranked below a random feature, it is possibly a useless feature for the model.
This can be especially useful in cases where we have plenty of features and we wish to discard those that don’t contribute to the model.
Of course, one shortcoming is that when using the Probe Method, we must train multiple models:
Train the first model with the random feature and discard useless features.
Keep training new models until the random feature is ranked as the least important feature (although typically, convergence does not result in plenty of models).
Train the final model without the random feature.
Nonetheless, the approach can be quite useful to reduce model complexity.
Once done, you can further reduce the model size by using model compression techniques, which we discussed here: Model Compression: A Critical Step Towards Efficient Machine Learning.
👉 Over to you: What are some other popular feature selection techniques?
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