Synthetic data generated with MOSTLY AI is highly representative, highly realistic, granular-level data that can be considered ‘as good as real’. While maintaining complete protection of each data subject's privacy, it can be openly processed, used, and shared among your peers. MOSTLY AI’s synthetic data serves various use cases and the initiatives that our customers have so far achieved, prove and demonstrate the value that our synthetic data platform has to offer.

To date, most of our customers' use cases centered around generating synthetic data for data sharing while maintaining privacy standards. However, we believe that there is more on offer for data consumers around the world. Poor-quality data is a problem for data scientists across all industries. Real-world datasets have missing information for various reasons. This is one of the most common issues data professionals have to deal with. The latest version of MOSTLY AI's synthetic data generator introduces features that can be utilized by users to interact with their original dataset - the so-called 'data augmentation' features. Among those is our ‘Smart Imputation’ technique which can accurately recreate the original distribution while filling the gaps for the missing values. This is gold for analytical purposes and data exploration!

What is smart data imputation?

Data imputation is the process of replacing missing values in a dataset with non-missing values. This is of particular interest, if the analysis or the machine learning algorithm cannot handle missing values on its own, and would otherwise need to discard partially incomplete records.

Many real-world datasets have missing values. On the one hand, some of the missing values may exist as they may hold important information depending on the business. For instance, a missing value in the ‘Death Date’ column means that the customer is still alive or a missing value in the ‘Income’ column means that the customer is unemployed or under-aged. On the other hand, oftentimes the missing values are caused by an organization's inability to capture this information. 

Thus, organizations look for methods to impute missing values for the latter case because these gaps in the data can result in several problems:

  • Missing data occasionally cause results to be biased. This means that because your data came from a non-representative sample, your findings could not be directly applicable to situations outside of your study.
  • Dataset distortion occurs when there is a great deal of missing data, which can change the distributions that people could see in real-world situations. Consequently, the numbers do not accurately reflect reality.

As a result, data scientists may employ rather simplistic methods to impute missing values which are likely to distort the overall value distribution of their dataset. These strategies include frequent category imputation, mean/median imputation, and arbitrary value imputation. Thoughtful consideration should be given to the fact that well-known machine learning libraries like scikit-learn have introduced data scientists to several univariate and multivariate imputation algorithms, including, respectively, "SimpleImputer" and "IterativeImputer." Finally, the scikit-learn 'KNNImputer' class, which offers imputation for filling in missing data using the k-Nearest Neighbors approach, is a popular technique that has gained considerable attention recently.

MOSTLY AI’s smart imputation technique seeks to produce precise and accurate synthetic data so that it is obvious right away that the final product is of "better" quality than the original dataset. At this point, it is important to note that MOSTLY AI is not yet another tool that merely replaces a dataset's missing values. Instead, we give our customers the ability to create entirely new datasets free of any missing values. Go ahead and continue reading if this piques your curiosity so you may verify the findings for yourself.

Data imputation with synthetic values

Evaluating smart imputation

We devise the below technique to compare the originally targeted distribution with the synthetic one to evaluate MOSTLY AI's smart imputation function.

Starting with the well-known US-Census dataset, we use column ‘age’ as our targeted column. The dataset has approximately 50k records and includes 2 numerical variables and 9 categorical variables. The average age of the targeted column is 38.6 years, with a range of 17 to 90 years and a standard deviation of 13.7 years.

US Census dataset - age column distribution

Our research begins by introducing semi-randomly some missing values into the US-Census dataset's "age" column. The goal is to compare the original distribution with the smartly imputed distribution and see whether we can correctly recover the original one.

We applied the following logic to introduce missing values in the original dataset, to artificially bias the non-missing values towards younger age segments. The age attribute was randomly set to missing for:

  • 10% of all records
  • 60% of records, whose education level was either ‘Doctorate', 'Prof-school' or ‘Masters’
  • 60% of records, whose marital status was either ‘Widowed’ or 'Divorced'
  • 60% of records, whose occupation level was set to ‘Exec-managerial’

It's important to note that by doing this, the algorithm won't be able to find any patterns or rules on where the missing values are located.

As a result, the 'age' column now has missing numbers that appear to be missing semi-randomly. The column's remaining non-missing values are therefore skewed in favor of younger people:

  • Original age mean: 38.6
  • Original age mean with missing values: 37.2
Missing values in the age column

As a next step, we synthesized and smartly imputed the US-Census dataset with the semi-random missing values on the "age" column using the MOSTLY AI synthetic data platform.

We carried out two generations of synthetic data. The first one is for generating synthetic data without enabling imputation and as expected the synthetic dataset matches the distribution of the data used to train the model (Synthetic with NAs - light green). The second one is for generating synthetic data enabling MOSTLY AI’s Smart imputation feature for the ‘age’ column. As we can see, the smartly imputed synthetic data perfectly recover the original distribution! 

Smart imputation evaluation
Evaluation of the synthetic imputed data

After adding the missing values to the original dataset, we started with an average age of 37.2 and used the "Smart imputation" technique to reconstruct the "age" column. The initial distribution of the US-Census data, which had an average age of 38.6, is accurately recovered in the reconstructed column, which now has an average age of 39.

As mentioned above, those results are great for analytical purposes. Data scientists now have access to a dataset that allows them to operate without being hindered by missing values.

We at MOSTLY AI are excited about the potential that ‘Smart Imputation’ and the rest of our 'Data Augmentation' and 'Data Diversity' features have to offer to our customers. More specifically, we would like to see more organizations using synthetic data across industries and to reduce the time-consuming task of dealing with missing data - time that data professionals can use to produce valuable insights for their organizations. We are eager to explore these paths further with our customers to assist their ML/AI endeavours, at a fraction of the time and expense, since the explorations in this blog post have shown the potential to support such a scenario. If you are currently facing the same struggle of dealing with missing values in your data, check out MOSTLY AI's synthetic data generator to try Smart imputation on your own.

As always we are more than happy to introduce you to our platform. If you are as excited as we are to use our new features do not hesitate to contact us and make the change for your organization.