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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

AI companies are generating synthetic data to train machine learning systems.

Why it matters: Using computer-generated data to train AI systems can help address privacy concerns and cut down on bias while meeting the needs of models that operate in highly specific environments.

How it works: A synthetic data set is artificially created, rather than scraped from the real world.

  • For a computer vision system being trained on facial recognition, that might mean a dataset of artificially generated human faces in lieu of online photos of real people pulled off the internet — often without their explicit consent.
  • "This allows you to train systems in a completely virtual domain," says Yashar Behzadi, the CEO of Synthesis AI, which generates synthetic data for computer vision models.

Details: Synthetic data has been used for some time in robotics and autonomous vehicles, which need to be trained with highly specific data — like the precise 3D position of an object — that can be expensive or difficult to pull from the real world.

  • But as concerns about AI bias and privacy grow, synthetic data makes it possible to generate data sets that can be molded to specification, allowing AI researchers to counter the bias that can be built into the real world.
  • "If we want to be robust against skin color or skin tone or demographics, any element that may not be well-represented, you can just model your distribution to equally representing each of those categories," says Behzadi.

Yes, but: The real world contains outliers that synthetic data generators may not think to cover, which could leave models unprepared for certain situations.

  • And it's still up to the generators of synthetic data to ensure that their datasets are fairer than what might be picked up in the real world.

The bottom line: Synthetic data can be even better than the real thing, but only if it's designed the right way.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - World

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to hold strategic Iran talks on Tuesday

Jake Sullivan. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty

Top national security officials from the U.S. and Israel will convene virtually on Tuesday for a second round of strategic talks on Iran, three Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: The talks come two days after an explosion at an Iranian nuclear facility that experts consider a likely act of Israeli sabotage, and one day before the U.S. resumes indirect nuclear talks in Vienna over a return to the 2015 nuclear deal — a prospect that has raised anxiety levels in Jerusalem.

Updated 1 hour ago - Axios Twin Cities

Police: Officer who shot Daunte Wright accidentally pulled gun instead of taser

The officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, outside Minneapolis Sunday appeared to have inadvertently pulled out her gun instead of a taser, police said.

Driving the news: "This appears to me, from what I viewed in the officer's reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright," Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon told reporters Monday.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: The warning signs of a longer pandemic — CDC director: Answer to Michigan COVID-19 surge is "to close things down."
  2. Vaccines: Former FDA chief offers reality check on vaccine passports.
  3. Economy: Jobs growth could be curbed by demands for higher wages.
  4. World: Facebook to push notifications about vaccine eligibility to 20 countries outside of the U.S. — Brits flock to pubs for first time in months as U.K. lockdown eases.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.