Technology readiness levels for machine learning systems

The development and deployment of machine learning systems can be executed easily with modern tools, but the process is typically rushed and means-to-an-end. Lack of diligence can lead to technical debt, scope creep and misaligned objectives, model misuse and failures, and expensive consequences. Engineering systems, on the other hand, follow well-defined processes and testing standards to streamline development for high-quality, reliable results. The extreme is spacecraft systems, with mission critical measures and robustness throughout the process. Drawing on experience in both spacecraft engineering and machine learning (research through product across domain areas), we’ve developed a proven systems engineering approach for machine learning and artificial intelligence: the Machine Learning Technology Readiness Levels framework defines a principled process to ensure robust, reliable, and responsible systems while being streamlined for machine learning workflows, including key distinctions from traditional software engineering, and a lingua franca for people across teams and organizations to work collaboratively on machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies. Here we describe the framework and elucidate with use-cases from physics research to computer vision apps to medical diagnostics.

MLTRL spans research (red) through prototyping (orange), productization (yellow), and deployment (green).
Most ML workflows prescribe an isolated, linear process of data processing, training, testing, and serving a model. Those workflows fail to define how ML development must iterate over that basic process to become more mature and robust, and how to integrate with a much larger system of software, hardware, data, and people.
Not to mention MLTRL continues beyond deployment: monitoring and feedback cycles are important for continuous reliability and improvement over the product lifetime.

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