While machine-learning techniques can improve business processes, predict future outcomes, and save money, they also increase modeling risk because of their complex and opaque features. In this article, Milliman’s Jonathan Glowacki and Martin Reichhoff discuss how model validation techniques can mitigate the potential pitfalls of machine-learning algorithms.

Here is an excerpt:

An independent model validation carried out by knowledgeable professionals can mitigate the risks associated with new modeling techniques. In spite of the novelty of machine-learning techniques, there are several methods to safeguard against overfitting and other modeling flaws. The most important requirement for model validation is for the team performing the model validation to understand the algorithm. If the validator does not understand the theory and assumptions behind the model, then they are likely to not perform an effective model validation on the process. After demonstrating an understanding on the model theory, the following procedures are helpful in performing the validation.

Outcomes analysis refers to comparing modeled results to actual data. For advanced modeling techniques, outcomes analysis becomes a very simple yet useful approach to understanding model interactions and pitfalls. One way to understand model results is to simply plot the range of the independent variable against both the actual and predicted outcome along with the number of observations. This allows the user to visualize the univariate relationship within the model and understand if the model is overfitting to sparse data. To evaluate possible interactions, cross plots can also be created looking at results in two dimensions as opposed to a single dimension. Dimensionality beyond two dimensions becomes difficult to evaluate, but looking at simple interactions does provide an initial useful understanding of how the model behaves with independent variables….

…Cross-validation is a common strategy to help ensure that a model isn’t overfitting the sample data it’s being developed with. Cross-validation has been used to help ensure the integrity of other statistical methods in the past, and with the rising popularity of machine-learning techniques, it has become even more important. In cross-validation, a model is fitted using only a portion of the sample data. The model is then applied to the other portion of the data to test performance. Ideally, a model will perform equally well on both portions of the data. If it doesn’t, it’s likely that the model has been over fit.