ml programming

A machine learning model is, for the most part, an stateful object. There is a bundle of state, call {}, packed in an object which changes as you call methods on it.

The basic steps involved in a regular object oriented package (like sklearn) are pretty intuitive:

model = Model(params)

In the functional approach on the other hand, the training will go in a function taking in a model and returning a new model, thus inflicting the update.

One major benefit here is in unit testing, where we get complete control of the function's input state. If you know what input state to test against, you can test the function. Contrast this with OOP where you will have to know how to get to that state first. This is a really useful property if we have to drag the state change for long time, like in online learning.

In a regular object model there is progression of a single object through time in a mutable way. In the functional model, its only the data object {} that's progressing (in an immutable way). Since this {} is the only carrier of program state, it can get loaded with burden of program logic too. For example, a flag might be present telling to choose one function over the other in the state evolution (unless this decision is easy/cheap to make from the {} value itself). You could also put those functions inside the objects, but that again is the same burden.

Another way is to separate the movement of data object (pure config/parameters) and the program evolution logic by defining a function which maintains the state {} as an optional parameter, like here:

(defun evolve (data &optional ({} init-{}))
  "DATA is new data according to which we modify the STATE."
  (let ((new-{} (do-something data {})))
    (lambda (data &optional ({} new-{}))
      (evolve data {}))))

This is basically a wrapper around the do-something function from the functional approach. Now, instead of putting in the information about branching logic in {} (and checking for flags in the evolve function) we return new evolve function each time, maintaining the evolution of {} in the lambda list. Something like the following:

(defun evolve-init (data &optional ({} init-{}))
  (let ((new-{} (do-something data {})))
      ((cond-a) (lambda (data &optional ({} new-{})) (something-a)))
      ((cond-b) (lambda (data &optional ({} new-{})) (something-b)))
      (t (lambda (data &optional ({} new-{}))
           (evolve-init data {}))))))

(defun go (&optional (ev-fn #'evolve-init))
  (let ((data (get-data)))
    (if data (go (funcall ev-fn data)))))

One trouble here is that to recover {} or to do anything with it needs inspection of the lambda list, which looks like a hack in most languages (in sbcl one way is (sb-introspect:function-lambda-list #'evolve-init)).

Since the function itself is, in some ways, a part of the program state, it would also be nice to be able to dispatch on function types. This is probably possible in Julia.

I don't know if this makes any sense. This, kind of, puts the evolve function in the center stage which feels weird for most of the use cases. But the state feels more organized in some ways. Probably there will be more to see when I get to work on something with a lot of state based branching.