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A transparent Open-Box learning network provides insight to complex systems and a performance benchmark for more-opaque machine learning algorithms

David A. Wood

(Published: 2018-03-20)

Corresponding Author and Email:David A. Wood,

Citation:Wood, D.A. A transparent Open-Box learning network provides insight to complex systems and a performance benchmark for more-opaque machine learning algorithms. Advances in Geo-Energy Research, 2018, 2(2): 148-162, doi: 10.26804/ager.2018.02.04.

Article Type:Original article


It is now commonplace to deploy neural networks and machine-learning algorithms to provide predictions derived from complex systems with multiple underlying variables. This is particularly useful where direct measurements for the key variables are limited in number and/or difficult to obtain. There are many petroleum systems that fit this description. Whereas artificial intelligence algorithms offer effective solutions to predicting these difficult-to-measure dependent variables they often fail to provide insight to the underlying systems and the relationships between the variables used to derive their predictions are obscure. To the user such systems often represent “black boxe”. The novel transparent open box (TOB) learning network algorithm described here overcomes these limitations by clearly revealing its intermediate calculations and the weightings applied to its independent variables in deriving its predictions. The steps involved in building and optimizing the TOB network are described in detail. For small to mid-sized datasets the TOB network can be deployed using spreadsheet formulas and standard optimizers; for larger systems coded algorithms and customised optimizers are easy to configure. Hybrid applications combining spreadsheet benefits (e.g. Microsoft Excel Solver) with algorithm code are also effective. The TOB learning network is applied to three petroleum datasets and demonstrates both its learning capabilities and the insight to the modelled systems that it is able to provide. TOB is not proposed as a replacement for neural networks and machine learning algorithms, but as a complementary tool; it can serve as a performance benchmark for some of the less transparent algorithms.

Keywords:Learning networks, transparency of variable relationships, benchmarking machine learning, performance, prediction of complex petroleum systems, soft-computing solutions, under-fitting/over-fitting.


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