Whether someone is trying to predict tomorrow’s weather, forecast future stock prices, identify missed opportunities for sales in retail, or estimate a patient’s risk of developing a disease, they will likely need to interpret time-series data, which are a collection of observations recorded over time. Making predictions using time-series data typically requires several data-processing steps and the use of complex machine-learning algorithms, which have such a steep learning curve they aren’t readily accessible to nonexperts. To make these powerful tools more user-friendly, MIT researchers developed a system that directly integrates prediction functionality on top of an existing time-series database. Their simplified interface, which they call tspDB (time series predict database), does all the complex modeling behind the scenes so a nonexpert can easily generate a prediction in only a few seconds.
The new system is more accurate and more efficient than state-of-the-art deep learning methods when performing two tasks: predicting future values and filling in missing data points. One reason tspDB is so successful is that it incorporates a novel time-series-prediction algorithm, explains electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) graduate student Abdullah Alomar, an author of a recent research paper in which he and his co-authors describe the algorithm. This algorithm is especially effective at making predictions on multivariate time-series data, which are data that have more than one time-dependent variable. In a weather database, for instance, temperature, dew point, and cloud cover each depend on their past values. The algorithm also estimates the volatility of a multivariate time series to provide the user with a confidence level for its predictions.
“Even as the time-series data becomes more and more complex, this algorithm can effectively capture any time-series structure out there. It feels like we have found the right lens to look at the model complexity of time-series data,” says senior author Devavrat Shah, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor in EECS and a member of the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society and of the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems. Joining Alomar and Shah on the paper is lead author Anish Agrawal, a former EECS graduate student who is currently a postdoc at the Simons Institute at the University of California at Berkeley. The research will be presented at the ACM SIGMETRICS conference.
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