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Featuretools: What are they? What is it used for in Machine Learning?

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Featuretools: What are they? What is it used for in Machine Learning?

Featuretools is an open source Python library created by Alteryx to automate feature engineering in Machine Learning. Find out everything you need to know about it: how it works, its benefits, use cases, etc.

In the field of Machine Learning, the engineering of functionalities or features is an essential practice. The quality and relevance of the features extracted from the data can make all the difference between a relevant model and an ineffective one.

However, this process is often very laborious. It requires in-depth expertise and considerable effort.

To remedy this problem, the company Alteryx has created an innovative open source solution to automate Feature Engineering.

Launched at the end of 2017, this tool automatically discovers complex relationships in data, generates meaningful features and frees data scientists from the most tedious tasks. Its name? Featuretools.

In this dossier, you’ll find out everything you need to know about this Python library that is revolutionising the field of Machine Learning. First of all, let’s look at the importance of feature engineering.

Functionality engineering: a pillar of success for Machine Learning

Feature Engineering can be seen as the art of transforming raw data into usable information, and forms the basis of modelling in Machine Learning.

This is because the ability of Machine Learning algorithms to extract meaningful patterns when capturing relationships between data depends on the quality of the features presented to them.

These features, or variables, act as discriminating characteristics to guide the model in its quest for understanding or prediction.

If they are relevant and informative, they enable the model to generalise from the training data while avoiding over-fitting. On the other hand, poorly designed or redundant functionalities can introduce noise and mislead the model.

And this engineering task is not limited to the selection of relevant variables, but also involves the creation of new derived features that are often crucial for expressing complex relationships.

However, as datasets become larger and more complex, the manual creation of functionality quickly becomes a Herculean task requiring hours of painstaking manipulation. As a result, the potential of models is diminished.

It is in this context that the Featuretools tool created by Alteryx emerges as a providential solution, promising to automate the process and free up Machine Learning experts to focus on more strategic tasks.

What is Featuretools?

At the crossroads of machine learning and data science, Featuretools is an open-source Python library offering advanced tools for automating feature engineering.

Its main objective is to enable the automatic capture of complex relationships between data, eliminating the need to manually specify each feature.

This approach is particularly beneficial in situations where the relationships between entities are non-trivial or difficult to capture manually.

Using Featuretools speeds up the feature engineering process by automating the creation of new variables, but also enables the creation of complex features that are difficult to identify manually.

By exploiting relationships between entities, it can generate information-rich features that potentially improve the model’s ability to generalise to data not seen during training.


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How does it work? What are the key components?

Featuretools is based on several fundamental concepts. EntitySets provide a way to manage entity-relationship data in a structured way.

Each EntitySet is a data structure that contains a set of entities (tables) and the relationships between these entities. This makes it possible to model complex data where several entities are linked to each other.

For example, in a product defect prediction scenario, an EntitySet could contain entities such as “Orders”, “Products” and “Customers”.

The relationships between these entities, such as orders linked to products and customers linked to orders, are defined in a way that allows Featuretools to understand the underlying structure of the data.

At the heart of Featuretools’ automation process is Deep Feature Synthesis (DFS): a mechanism for automatically creating features by combining information from multiple entities.

This process explores the relationships defined in the EntitySet to create more complex features. Rather than just simple features, DFS helps to capture deeper patterns.

For example, suppose an EntitySet contains ‘Customers’ and ‘Transactions’ entities. DFS could automatically create a Featuretools representing the sum of the transaction amounts for each customer.

Without any manual intervention, Featuretools is therefore able to generate meaningful features that capture the relationships between entities.

Primitives are the basic operations that can be applied when creating new features. There are two different categories.

Aggregation primitives include operations such as sum, average, minimum or maximum. Transformation primitives, on the other hand, allow more complex manipulations such as normalisation or extraction of parts of a date.

It is the judicious use of these primitives that enables Featuretools to generate a wide range of features from existing data, without the user having to specify each operation manually.

This greatly simplifies the engineering process, making a variety of sophisticated operations accessible without the need for in-depth expertise.

Predictive maintenance, marketing... an ideal tool for several use cases

It is also a particularly powerful tool for solving specific problems. For example, to predict the failure of industrial equipment, it can automatically extract complex temporal functionalities from sensor data.

Similarly, in marketing or e-commerce, it can be used to create personalised features based on past customer behaviour. This improves the accuracy of recommendation and segmentation models.

Integrating Featuretools into the Machine Learning workflow

As a machine learning tool, Featuretools is directly designed to integrate seamlessly with other popular libraries such as Pandas and Scikit-learn.

This makes it possible to take advantage of its automation capabilities while continuing to use familiar tools, particularly for manipulating data or building and evaluating models.

This ease of integration simplifies practitioners’ transition to using Featuretools in their projects, without requiring a complete overhaul of their current workflow.

Compared to manual approaches to feature engineering, automation dramatically speeds up the process and reduces the potential for human error.

Conclusion: Featuretools, a real ally for Data Scientists

By automating the various stages of feature engineering, Featuretools saves precious time and increases the performance of Machine Learning models.

After just a few years, this Python library has established itself as one of the essential open source solutions for Machine Learning professionals.

To learn how to master Featuretools and all the best Machine Learning tools, you can choose DataScientest! Our range of distance learning courses will give you real expertise.

The Python language and Machine Learning are on the syllabus for our Data Scientist, Data Analyst and Machine Learning Engineer courses. What’s more, the module dedicated to time series in our Deep Learning course covers pre-processing and feature engineering in detail.

Through these different programmes, you can discover all the techniques required to become a Data Science and AI professional, such as DataViz, Business Intelligence, databases, analysis methods, as well as putting ML models into production.

All our training courses are delivered remotely via BootCamp, on a part-time or continuous basis. Our organisation is eligible for funding options, and you can receive a state-recognised diploma and Cloud certification. Find out more about DataScientest!

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