Machine Learning Department
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Why Machine Learning Works

George D. Montañez

May 2017

Ph.D. Thesis


Keywords: Machine learning, algorithmic search, famine of forte, no free lunch, dependence

To better understand why machine learning works, we cast learning problems as searches and characterize what makes searches successful. We prove that any search algorithm can only perform well on a narrow subset of problems, and show the effects of dependence on raising the probability of success for searches. We examine two popular ways of understanding what makes machine learning work, empirical risk minimization and compression, and show how they fit within our search framework. Leveraging the "dependence-first" view of learning, we apply this knowledge to areas of unsupervised time-series segmentation and automated hyperparameter optimization, developing new algorithms with strong empirical performance on real-world problem classes.

143 pages

Thesis Committee:
Cosma R. Shalizi (Chair)
Roni Rosenfeld
Geoffrey Gordon
Milos Hauskrecht (University of Pittsburgh)

Manuela M. Veloso, Head, Machine Learning Department
Andrew W. Moore, Dean, School of Computer Science

SCS Technical Report Collection
School of Computer Science