31 May 2014, 09:16

Book review: Clojure for Machine Learning

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Clojure for Machine Learning is a good basic introduction to some diverse libraries (and even a few underlying implementations, like a pretty good from-scratch implementation of a neural network), and it gives a nice, concise, and accurate intro to the math behind some of the techniques. If you are coming at it from the other direction, reasonably familiar with some bestiary of ML techniques and wondering how to idiomatically apply them in Clojure (not easily - persistent data structures and high-performance matrix math don’t really jibe) you’re likely to be disappointed.

On the other hand, the biggest issues with applying ML techniques aren’t things like “how do I run a logistic regression”, it’s things like “my data doesn’t fit in memory anymore”, “how do I get fitting time less than 8 hours”, “how do I get the last 2% of accuracy I need”, or “should I be running a logistic regression in the first place”. This is the sort of thing that’s very difficult to approach holistically in a single book, especially a brisk 270-page book that covers ten or so technique variants. To be fair, the author does bring up some meta-level issues like overfitting, regularization, and precision / recall tradeoffs, but it’s not really aimed at giving you a deep understanding of the tricky parts.

So in sum, this is a nice book to put in an office library for an occasional bootstrap, or if you’re using Clojure already and you want to dip your toes in the ML realm. Look at the table of contents, and see if there’s a good amount of “stuff” that looks intriguing (there is a really good range of coverage). But, if you have an interest in a particular technique or problem you’re better off implementing it from scratch or diving deeply into a solid library and learning the nuts and bolts on your own.

This review has been cross-posted to Amazon.