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What is Concept Drift : Examples and Challenges

  • October 27, 2023
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Meet the Author : Mr. Bharani Kumar

Bharani Kumar Depuru is a well known IT personality from Hyderabad. He is the Founder and Director of Innodatatics Pvt Ltd and 360DigiTMG. Bharani Kumar is an IIT and ISB alumni with more than 18+ years of experience, he held prominent positions in the IT elites like HSBC, ITC Infotech, Infosys, and Deloitte. He is a prevalent IT consultant specializing in Industrial Revolution 4.0 implementation, Data Analytics practice setup, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data Analytics, Industrial IoT, Business Intelligence and Business Management. Bharani Kumar is also the chief trainer at 360DigiTMG with more than Ten years of experience and has been making the IT transition journey easy for his students. 360DigiTMG is at the forefront of delivering quality education, thereby bridging the gap between academia and industry.

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Imagine you're on a thrilling expedition deep into the heart of a mysterious forest. Everything seems calm and predictable at first, but as you venture further, the landscape transforms before your eyes. Trees shift, the terrain morphs, and the once-familiar path becomes an enigma. This sense of bewildering change is much like what data scientists experience when facing concept drift.

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Concept drift, lurking like an elusive forest spirit, is the bane of data-driven decision-making. It's that uncanny phenomenon when the very essence of your data shifts over time, confounding your once-reliable models and leading to a frustrating decline in accuracy. In this journey through the data wilderness, we will unveil the cryptic nature of concept drift and equip you with the tools to not only monitor and prevent it but also tame its wild effects.

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Understanding Concept Drift

Navigating the Shifting Tides: Monitoring & Maintenance in the World of Concept Drift

By the time we emerge from this adventure, you'll possess the knowledge to distinguish between the various guises of concept drift, employ strategies to stay ahead of its capricious nature, and navigate the treacherous terrain of handling it with finesse. So, fasten your seatbelts and grab your explorer's hat – the voyage into the world of concept drift is about to begin!

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What is Concept Drift?

In simpler terms, concept drift occurs when the model is trained on data that may no longer be relevant, leading to a mismatch between the training data and the data the model is currently working on. The changes could be gradual or drastic, and if not handled with care, can dramatically affect the model's performance.

Navigating the Shifting Tides: Monitoring & Maintenance in the World of Concept Drift

Examples of Concept Drift

Concept drift can occur across various fields, such as finance, Weather forecasting, and demand forecasting. For example, weather data might change due to global warming, leading to the model's inability to make accurate predictions. Similarly, in e-commerce and movie recommendation systems, customers' shopping patterns might change due to external factors such as a pandemic, rendering the model less effective than before.

The consequences of concept drift could be disastrous in terms of the model's reliability and accuracy. In the following sections, we will discuss the methods to monitor and prevent concept drift to ensure the long-term viability of models.

Monitoring Concept Drift Bb

Navigating the Shifting Tides: Monitoring & Maintenance in the World of Concept Drift

One thing that sets apart data science models from static models is that they are trained on streaming data. But, with streaming data comes the risk of concept drift. We can't stress enough how much of a problem it is! To address this, we need to monitor our models constantly.

There are three types of concept drift. Sudden drift happens abruptly due to unforeseen circumstances like the COVID-19 pandemic. Gradual drift takes a long time to occur and can be addressed in time series models by capturing the change in seasonality. Recurrent drift happens periodically, during events like Black Friday or Halloween. However, it is difficult to monitor because the periodicity of a pattern might also be dynamic. Understanding these types of drift is the first step to monitoring them.

Navigating the Shifting Tides: Monitoring & Maintenance in the World of Concept Drift

There are several methods to monitor concept drift. These include monitoring the performance of the model over time, applying accuracy metrics, or monitoring the classification confidence (applicable only for classification). The latter uses confidence scores to reflect the probability of a data point belonging to a predicted class.Concept drift is represented by any variation in the average confidence score between two windows. Monitoring concept drift is not easy, but it is crucial. It helps you identify problems early and improve your model's performance.

To sum it up, monitoring concept drift is a vital practice that should not be overlooked. Understanding the three types of drift and the methods to detect them will help you build more robust models. Remember, always be vigilant in monitoring your models and be ready to adapt to any changes that occur.

Preventing Concept Drift

Navigating the Shifting Tides: Monitoring & Maintenance in the World of Concept Drift

Detecting concept drift is one thing, preventing it is another. The best way to prevent concept drift is to be proactive. Here are some methods to prevent concept drift.

Firstly, online learning is the most prominent method to prevent concept drift.The model processes one sample at a time, updating the learner as it goes. Since most applications run on streaming data, online learning is a popular choice.

Secondly, periodically retraining the model can be helpful. Retraining can be triggered when the model's performance degrades below a specified threshold or when an average confidence score between two windows of data observes significant drift. Retraining can be done on a representative subsample of the population. Selecting a sample using instance selection, which is representative of the population and follows the same probability distribution as the original data distribution, is essential. Explicitly relabeling those data points with the help of human experts and training the model on the curated data ensures that the model is up-to-date.

Thirdly, ensemble learning methods can be deployed. An ensemble of models can be trained to capture different facets of the data distribution. This can increase the robustness of the model and address the concept drift problem.

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Lastly, a human-in-the-loop system can be deployed. The human-in-the-loop system ensures that there is an expert who can validate and approve changes to the model. This system is crucial in high-risk environments, like healthcare and finance, where false positives can have an adverse impact.

While these are just a few of the methods available to prevent concept drift, each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The choice of method depends on the nature of the problem, the resources available, and the desired outcome.

In conclusion, preventing concept drift is a challenging yet essential task when maintaining data science models. By deploying proactive measures, like online learning, ensemble learning methods, and human-in-the-loop systems, models can be kept up-to-date and robust. Data scientists must continuously monitor models to ensure that they remain true to the data distribution and deliver accurate predictions.

Handling Concept Drift

Now that we have an idea of what concept drift is, let's talk about how to handle it. A concept drift management system should ideally be able to recognise and respond to considerable drift in model performance, quickly adjust to concept drift, and be resilient to noise. It should also be able to identify noise from concept drift. Sounds easy, right? Well, not quite. Handling concept drift can be tricky and there is no one size fits all solution.

Navigating the Shifting Tides: Monitoring & Maintenance in the World of Concept Drift

Concept drift adaptation entails anticipating the drift and updating the model as soon as feasible. Concept drift may be effectively adapted to through online learning, where the learner is constantly informed as the model analyses each sample individually.

Data can sometimes be pretty noisy, and it can be challenging to tell the difference between noise and idea drift. Robustness to noise describes a model's capacity to operate well in the presence of noise.

Recognizing concept drift means being able to tell the difference between a change in the data collection process and a change in the context of the target variable. Appropriate monitoring methods can help identify the source of the drift.

Treating significant drift in model performance refers to retraining the model when the performance of the model has significantly decreased. This can be done in two ways: periodically re-train the model or retrain on a representative subsample.

Handling concept drift can be challenging but not impossible; it requires proactive and reactive measures to maintain model health. What is your experience with handling concept drift? Let us know in the comments.

Challenges in Handling Concept Drift

Concept drift can't be fully prevented. Even with a monitoring system in place, the drift can grow and create serious issues for the model's performance. Some challenges faced in handling concept drift include bias, feature drift, and adaptation cost. Bias can be introduced by drifts caused by demographics, but it may also be the result of sampling error. Feature drift is caused by features that are no longer relevant or by new features that become important. Adapting the system to deal with concept drift can also come at a cost of the re-labeling and retraining data.


Monitoring and maintaining data science models against concept drift readiness is necessary to keep the model up-to-date. With various methods available to detect and prevent concept drift, it is essential to adopt a sound concept drift handling system that identifies and treats significant drift in model performance. As the data generated with disparate sources increases, overcoming the challenges posed by concept drift continues to remain a significant concern for data science professionals.

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