How to find a unicorn: a novel model-free, unsupervised anomaly detection method for time series

23 Apr 2020  ·  Zsigmond Benkő, Tamás Bábel, Zoltán Somogyvári ·

Recognition of anomalous events is a challenging but critical task in many scientific and industrial fields, especially when the properties of anomalies are unknown. In this paper, we introduce a new anomaly concept called "unicorn" or unique event and present a new, model-free, unsupervised detection algorithm to detect unicorns. The key component of the new algorithm is the Temporal Outlier Factor (TOF) to measure the uniqueness of events in continuous data sets from dynamic systems. The concept of unique events differs significantly from traditional outliers in many aspects: while repetitive outliers are no longer unique events, a unique event is not necessarily an outlier; it does not necessarily fall out from the distribution of normal activity. The performance of our algorithm was examined in recognizing unique events on different types of simulated data sets with anomalies and it was compared with the Local Outlier Factor (LOF) and discord discovery algorithms. TOF had superior performance compared to LOF and discord algorithms even in recognizing traditional outliers and it also recognized unique events that those did not. The benefits of the unicorn concept and the new detection method were illustrated by example data sets from very different scientific fields. Our algorithm successfully recognized unique events in those cases where they were already known such as the gravitational waves of a binary black hole merger on LIGO detector data and the signs of respiratory failure on ECG data series. Furthermore, unique events were found on the LIBOR data set of the last 30 years.

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