minutes read
February 21, 2024

Beyond Real Data. The Rise of Synthetic Data in AI

In an age where AI is reshaping our world, demanding vast amounts of data, a promising solution emerges amidst growing privacy concerns...

Data accessibility is vital for developing AI applications. This is a significant hurdle, particularly for startups and growing companies. They face difficulties in obtaining relevant data, navigating sharing permissions, and adhering to increasingly stringent privacy laws and regulations. Without access to quality data, leveraging AI for innovative solutions is challenging, underscoring the need for effective alternatives.

Synthetic data emerges as a key solution, highlighted by industry analysts like Gartner. They estimate that by 2024, 60% of the data used in AI development will be synthetic, created by algorithms rather than gathered from direct interactions.

AI and Synthetic Data Explained

AI-generated synthetic data differs from traditional data, which is typically collected from real-world interactions. This data is produced by AI algorithms, crafting new, artificial data points that mimic the characteristics and patterns of real datasets. This innovation allows for the quick generation of large volumes of data, useful for a variety of AI applications.

The Role of Synthetic Data

Synthetic data offers a privacy-friendly alternative to using real-world data. It is increasingly employed for training AI models and for sharing data without compromising individual privacy. Data professionals are turning to synthetic data for testing and developing AI solutions, recognizing its potential to maintain privacy while providing valuable insights.

The impact of AI-generated synthetic data is significant. Initially focused on creating images for training visual recognition systems, the attention is now shifting towards structured data like customer records and financial transactions. Traditional data anonymization methods, such as masking sensitive information, often diminish the utility of the data. AI-generated synthetic data overcomes this by preserving privacy without reducing the data’s usefulness.

Generating Synthetic Data

The generation of synthetic data is driven by advanced generative algorithms. These algorithms learn from real data samples, capturing their statistical relationships and structures. They then create new, synthetic data that mirrors the original data in a statistically coherent way. Ensuring that these algorithms do not replicate the original data too closely is crucial. Both open-source and commercial tools are available for generating synthetic data, with commercial options often offering more reliable and controlled outputs.

Comparing Types of Synthetic Data

Understanding the difference between AI-generated synthetic data and mock data is crucial. Historically, 'synthetic data' referred to all types of generated data, including simple mock or random data. Today, however, AI-generated synthetic data is often confused with mock data, despite their significant differences. AI-generated synthetic data relies on real data samples. To create it, a substantial sample dataset is required. In contrast, mock data generators do not use real data samples, and the data they produce lacks real-world statistical relevance, essentially being entirely fabricated.

The AI algorithms behind synthetic data can learn and mimic real-world business rules, which mock data generators cannot achieve. Furthermore, there is a distinction between structured and unstructured synthetic data. Unstructured synthetic data includes forms like synthetic images and videos. On the other hand, structured synthetic data is more organized, like tables, where the relationship between data points is critical. Examples of this include records of financial transactions, patient medical histories, and customer relationship management (CRM) databases. These structured data types often represent human behaviors and trends over time, commonly known as behavioral or time-series data.

Mock DataAI-generated (Synthetic) Data

Is Synthetic Data Fake?

Despite being labeled as "fake" or "mock" data, high-quality synthetic data can be as accurate as, or in some cases, more accurate than the original data. This is because synthetic data models can generate a wider range of examples from the training data, helping AI algorithms to learn and generalize better.

Synthetic data is applied across various sectors:

  • In automotive and robotics, it's used for training simulations and developing autonomous driving technologies.
  • The financial sector utilizes it for privacy-respectful data sharing and for training algorithms to respond to market anomalies.
  • In cybersecurity, it aids in training models to identify fraud and security breaches.
  • Social media platforms use it for training algorithms without compromising real user data.
  • The gaming industry leverages it for understanding player behavior in a secure manner.
  • In healthcare, it's used for medical research and improving patient care.
  • Manufacturing industries use it to model supply chain processes and identify potential issues.
  • Retail employs it for optimizing store layouts and analyzing customer movement patterns.

The Advantages of Synthetic Data in AI and Machine Learning

Synthetic data accelerates analytics development, eases regulatory worries, and lowers data gathering costs. Ideal for AI and machine learning, synthetic data is highly adaptable, crafted by AI to meet diverse requirements. It's like flexible clay for data experts, allowing for size and diversity adjustments. Enhancing minority representation in datasets improves model performance, while large datasets can be resized for testing purposes. Synthetic data also offers bias reduction, demonstrating its wide-ranging potential.

What Does Synthetic Data Look Like?

High-quality synthetic data closely mirrors the original data, making it a suitable substitute for sensitive real-world data in various applications such as AI training, analytics, and software development. For instance, synthetic versions of customer databases, patient records, or transaction data allow organizations to make informed decisions while safeguarding customer privacy. Gartner predicts that 20% of test data for customer-facing applications will be generated synthetically by 2025.

Synthetic data is versatile and used across multiple sectors, including finance, healthcare, insurance, and telecommunications. It supports a range of applications like pricing and risk prediction, customer analytics, explainable AI, development testing, demonstrations, and creating personalized products. The uses of synthetic data are expanding, offering more opportunities across various industries.

Enhancing Machine Learning with Synthetic Data

In curtain scenarios, machine learning models trained on synthetic data can be more accurate than those using real data, offering solutions to privacy and copyright concerns. Machine learning, especially in human action recognition like fall detection or gesture interpretation, often requires large video datasets. Gathering and annotating such datasets is expensive, time-consuming, and raises privacy and copyright issues. To address this, researchers are turning to synthetic datasets created through computer simulations, using 3D models to generate diverse action scenarios without the ethical dilemmas of real data.

A study by MIT, the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, and Boston University using 150,000 synthetic video clips for training showed that synthetic data-trained models excelled, especially in simpler video backgrounds. This demonstrates synthetic data's potential in enhancing real-world machine learning applications while addressing ethical and privacy challenges.

Rogerio Feris, a principal scientist and manager at the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab and co-author of the research paper, emphasizes the advantages of synthetic data: “Our ultimate aim is to substitute real data pretraining with synthetic data pretraining. Creating an action in synthetic data has an initial cost, but once that's done, you can generate endless variations of images or videos by altering poses, lighting, etc. This flexibility and scalability is the true value of synthetic data.”

Final Thoughts

The potential of synthetic data in the field of machine learning and AI is immense and continually expanding. This approach not only addresses significant challenges associated with the use of real-world data, such as privacy and ethical concerns, but also offers unprecedented flexibility and scalability in training AI models. The ability to generate diverse, high-volume datasets without the constraints of real-world data collection opens up new horizons in AI research and application development. As the technology and methods for creating and utilizing synthetic data continue to evolve, we can expect to see even more innovative and effective uses in various industries. This shift towards synthetic data is not just a technological advancement; it represents a paradigm shift in how we approach data-driven innovation, prioritizing privacy and ethical considerations while pushing the boundaries of what's possible in AI and machine learning.

Ready to take your AI initiatives to the next level?
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Our other articles

All articles