Thanks to my CS7641 class at Georgia Tech in my MS Analytics program, where I discovered this concept and was inspired to write about it. It is somewhat surprising that among all the high-flying buzzwords of machine learning, we don't hear much about the one phrase which fuses some of the core concepts of statistical learning, information theory, and natural philosophy into a single three-word-combo. Moreover, it is not just an obscure and pedantic phrase meant for machine learning (ML) Ph.Ds and theoreticians. It has a precise and easily accessible meaning for anyone interested to explore, and a practical pay-off for the practitioners of ML and data science. I am talking about Minimum Description Length.

The relationship between the Bayesian approach and the minimum description length approach is established. We sharpen and clarify the general modeling principles MDL and MML, abstracted as the ideal MDL principle and defined from Bayes's rule by means of Kolmogorov complexity. The basic condition under which the ideal principle should be applied is encapsulated as the Fundamental Inequality, which in broad terms states that the principle is valid when the data are random, relative to every contemplated hypothesis and also these hypotheses are random relative to the (universal) prior. Basically, the ideal principle states that the prior probability associated with the hypothesis should be given by the algorithmic universal probability, and the sum of the log universal probability of the model plus the log of the probability of the data given the model should be minimized. If we restrict the model class to the finite sets then application of the ideal principle turns into Kolmogorov's minimal sufficient statistic. In general we show that data compression is almost always the best strategy, both in hypothesis identification and prediction.

Question: Why do you square the error in a regression machine learning task? Ans: "Why, of course, it turns out all the errors (residuals) into positive quantities!" Question: "OK, why not use a simpler absolute value function x to make all the errors positive?" Ans: "Aha, you are trying to trick me. Absolute value function is not differentiable everywhere!" Question: "That should not matter much for numerical algorithms. LASSO regression uses a term with absolute value and it can be handled.

Because the Bayes classifier is optimal, the Bayes error is the minimum possible error that can be made. Further, the model is often described in terms of classification, e.g. the Bayes Classifier. Nevertheless, the principle applies just as well to regression: that is, predictive modeling problems where a numerical value is predicted instead of a class label. It is a theoretical model, but it is held up as an ideal that we may wish to pursue. In theory we would always like to predict qualitative responses using the Bayes classifier. But for real data, we do not know the conditional distribution of Y given X, and so computing the Bayes classifier is impossible. Therefore, the Bayes classifier serves as an unattainable gold standard against which to compare other methods.