Our interview paper on misbehaviour and fault tolerance in machine learning systems was recently published in Journal of Systems and Software. Machine learning (ML) provides us with numerous opportunities, allowing ML systems to adapt to new situations and contexts. At the same time, this adaptability raises uncertainties concerning the run-time product quality or dependability, such as reliability and security, of these systems. Systems can be tested and monitored, but this does not provide protection against faults and failures in adapted ML systems themselves.
We studied software designs that aim at introducing fault tolerance in ML systems so that possible problems in ML components of the systems can be avoided. The research was conducted as a case study, and its data was collected through five semi-structured interviews with experienced software architects.
We present a conceptualisation of the misbehaviour of ML systems, the perceived role of fault tolerance, and the designs used. The problems in the systems rise from problems in inputs, concept drift, bugs and inaccuracies in the models, their faulty deployment, and not really understanding what the utilised model does. Common patterns to incorporating ML components in design in a fault tolerant fashion have started to emerge. ML models are, for example, guarded by monitoring the inputs and their distribution, and enforcing business rules on acceptable outputs. Multiple, specialised ML models are used to adapt to the variations and changes in the surrounding world, and simpler fall-over techniques like default outputs are put in place to have systems up and running in the face of problems.
However, the general role of these patterns is not widely acknowledged. This is mainly due to the relative immaturity of using ML as part of a complete software system: the field still lacks established frameworks and practices beyond training to implement, operate, and maintain the software that utilises ML. ML software engineering needs further analysis and development on all fronts.
The full paper can be read here (open access): https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jss.2021.111096