Low-Cost Synthetic Data Creation and Management Using Open-Source Technology

September 11, 2023

Enterprises are trying to leverage AI and ML as much as possible, investing capital in research and development. However, there are some constraints when it comes to the collection of data, cleaning, maintenance etc. which is time and computationally extensive. 

Synthetic data generation can offer data generation at low costs and also avoid the complexities associated with data privacy. Products can be tested faster and launched sooner for the audience. It has been predicted that, in the future, over 60% of the models will utilize synthetic data for their training and testing.

What Is Synthetic Data?

Data that is created using artificial intelligence using statistical algorithms, which mirror the properties of real-world data, but do not represent it, is known as synthetic data. The primary purpose of this is to substitute the real-world data when the collection is not feasible, practical or ethical.

Creation of synthetic data involves the addition of new data points statistically similar to the original ones, which can be done in different ways, like using simple tricks such as picking data randomly and adding some randomness, or more advanced techniques like using fancy algorithms such as GANs and VAEs.

Some of the use cases of synthetic data involve:

  • Model Development and Testing: Synthetic data is used to build and test machine learning models without using real data. This is particularly useful during the early stages of model development when sufficient real data might not be available.
  • Algorithm Validation: Researchers and developers can validate algorithms, methodologies, and software tools using synthetic data before applying them to real data.
  • Data Augmentation: Synthetic data can be combined with actual data to augment the dataset, increasing its size and diversity. This often leads to better generalization and improved model performance.
  • Privacy and Security: In scenarios where privacy regulations (like GDPR) restrict the use of personal information, synthetic data can be used to ensure compliance while still allowing testing and development.
  • Simulation: Synthetic data is used in simulations to model various scenarios and test responses without using actual data. This is common in fields like robotics, autonomous vehicles, and epidemiology.
  • Educational and Training Purposes: Synthetic data is valuable for teaching and training without exposing sensitive or confidential information. It's used in classrooms and workshops to demonstrate concepts and techniques.

Synthetic Data Generation Methods

There are three different types of data generation methods according to the type of data you are working with:

  1. Based on Statistical Distribution: By observing the statistical distributions in real-world data, similar data can be reproduced by random sampling. This can be achieved by the normal distribution, chi-square distribution, exponential distribution, and more. 
  2. Using Model Agents: A model can be created which can be used to explain the observed behavior and it will generate random data with the same model.
    In case you have partial real-world data available, a hybrid model can be used, using statistical distribution as well as agent modeling.
  3. Using Deep Learning: Deep learning models can perform complex methods; some models which can be used are:
  • Variational Autoencoders: The encoder-decoder architecture can be used to pass the images and recreate the same, via double transformation.
  • Generative Adversarial Networks: This model helps in creating fake yet realistic data points. Two models work together to fool the discrimination model and generate images as close to the real images as possible.
  • Diffusion Models: The technique involves using algorithms to intentionally distort training data with Gaussian noise until the data turns into complete noise. A neural network is then trained to reverse this distortion, progressively eliminating noise until a new image is formed. 

Benefits of Open-Source Technology

Utilizing open-source tools for synthetic data generation offers a range of substantial benefits that contribute to the effectiveness and efficiency of this crucial process. Let's delve into these advantages:

1. Cost Savings

The most important advantage that comes with using open-source tools is cost savings. This reduces the financial burden and the tasks can be accomplished within limited budgets. 

2. Flexibility and Customization

Since not all data is the same and the requirement changes with different objectives, open-source software enables the user the flexibility to adapt to situations differently and customize the functionalities. This adaptability ensures that the tools are tailored precisely to the needs of the synthetic data generation process.

3. Community-Driven Development

The open-source community thrives on collaboration and shared knowledge. Many open-source projects for synthetic data generation are developed and maintained by a community of dedicated contributors. This community-driven approach leads to continuous improvements, bug fixes, and updates. Users can leverage the collective expertise of the community to enhance the tools' performance and capabilities over time.

4. Transparency and Trust

Open-source tools are transparent by nature. The source code is accessible to anyone, allowing users to inspect how the tools function and ensuring there are no hidden functionalities that might compromise data integrity or security. This transparency builds trust among users, as they have a clear understanding of what the tools are doing with their data.

5. Avoiding Vendor Lock-In

With proprietary solutions, users can become dependent on a single vendor for ongoing support and updates. Open-source tools mitigate this risk by allowing users to access and modify the source code independently. This freedom ensures that users are not tied to a single provider and can continue using and adapting the tools even if the original developers discontinue support.

6. Rich Ecosystem and Integration

Open-source tools are often part of a larger ecosystem of related tools and libraries. This interconnectedness facilitates integration with other software and technologies commonly used in data science and machine learning workflows. Users can harness the power of various tools to create a seamless and comprehensive synthetic data generation pipeline.

7. Rapid Innovation

Open-source projects tend to evolve quickly due to the collaborative efforts of a global community. As new techniques, algorithms, or methodologies emerge, they are integrated into open-source tools at a faster pace than traditional proprietary solutions. This allows users to stay at the forefront of advancements in synthetic data generation.

Synthetic Data Generation Tools

Using tools for synthetic data generation saves time and is easy to implement. Some hassle-free and open-source tools are:

1. Gretel: Gretel specializes in creating synthetic data, ensuring statistical equivalence without revealing sensitive information. It employs a sequence-to-sequence model for data synthesis

2. CTGAN: CTGAN is a collection of deep learning synthetic data generators for single table data, which are able to learn from real data and generate synthetic data with high fidelity

3. Copulas: This tool helps to opt for a range of univariate distributions and copulas such as Archimedean, Gaussian, and Vine Copulas to model multivariate data effectively. After constructing your model, visually assess real versus synthetic data through 1D histograms, 2D scatterplots, and 3D scatterplots. You can also enjoy complete access to model internals, enabling parameter fine-tuning and customization according to your preferences. This empowers you to manipulate learned parameters with precision

4. DoppelGANger: It is based on generative adversarial networks (GANs).

5. Twinify: It is a software package for privacy-preserving generation of a synthetic twin to a given sensitive data set.

The complete list is available at: https://github.com/statice/awesome-synthetic-data
These tools address diverse needs, from finance and healthcare to computer vision and defense intelligence. They contribute to AI advancements by providing robust synthetic data solutions.

Challenges and Constraints in Utilizing Synthetic Data

Despite the array of benefits that synthetic data offers to enterprises engaged in data science pursuits, it also presents a series of limitations:

  1. Data Reliability: Even though the synthetically generated data is very close to the real world, it might have biases towards certain features. A thorough scrutinization of biases is crucial for a good quality model. Rigorous data validation and verification is mandatory before its utilization. 
  1. Replicating Outliers: The outliers present in real-world data provide additional information, but those might be absent in the case of synthetic data. Achieving a replica of the real world is out of scope. 
  1. Expertise, Time, and Effort: While generating synthetic data might be comparably simpler and cost-effective in contrast to accurate data, it does demand a certain level of expertise, time, and dedicated effort.
  1. User Acceptance: Synthetic data introduces a novel concept, and individuals unfamiliar with its advantages might exhibit hesitancy in trusting predictions rooted in it. Creating awareness about the value of synthetic data becomes imperative to cultivate user acceptance.
  1. Quality Control and Output Verification: The objective of producing synthetic data is to replicate real-world data. This underscores the criticality of meticulous data inspection. For intricate datasets autonomously generated through algorithms, assuring data accuracy before integrating it into machine learning or deep learning models becomes indispensable.

Managing Synthetic Datasets

Synthetic datasets, like real ones, can grow large and complex. Ensuring proper organization and storage is crucial. Addressing challenges related to data structure, naming conventions, and consistent directory layouts is vital to maintain accessibility and clarity.

Effectively managing synthetic datasets is essential to ensure their usability and reliability. Here's how to tackle this:

  1. Data Versioning with Git LFS: Git Large File Storage (Git LFS) is a valuable tool for managing large files, including synthetic datasets. It allows you to store dataset versions, track changes, and collaborate efficiently. This aids in preserving the history of changes made to datasets, facilitating collaboration among team members.
  1. Metadata Documentation: Documenting metadata, including the origin of data, transformation processes, and variable meanings, is indispensable. Comprehensive metadata documentation ensures that the context and purpose of the synthetic dataset are clear for future reference, minimizing confusion and enhancing reproducibility.

Evaluating Synthetic Data Quality

Ensuring the quality and reliability of synthetic datasets is paramount for their effective use. Here's how to evaluate their worth:

  1. Techniques for Evaluation: Assessing synthetic data quality involves multiple techniques. Cross-validation, where the dataset is divided into subsets for training and validation, helps gauge the model's performance. Comparing synthetic data results with real data outcomes can reveal any discrepancies.
  1. Measuring Diversity, Bias, and Similarity: Diversity and bias are crucial aspects of dataset quality. Techniques like Shannon's Entropy can quantify the diversity of synthetic data, while measures like the Simpson’s Diversity Index can detect biases. Ensuring similarity to real data is vital; statistical tests and visualizations can aid in assessing the resemblance.
  1. Tools and Metrics for Model Performance: Evaluating the performance of machine learning models trained on synthetic data necessitates appropriate tools and metrics. Metrics such as accuracy, precision, recall, and F1 score provide insights into how well the model performs with the synthetic dataset. Comparing these metrics with models trained on real data highlights potential discrepancies.

Effectively managing and evaluating synthetic datasets ensures their integrity and usefulness. By addressing organization challenges, utilizing versioning tools, and documenting metadata, you create a reliable foundation. Evaluating quality through diverse techniques, measuring diversity and bias, and using appropriate metrics for model performance aids in gauging the dataset's effectiveness.


Synthetic data generation is a need in today’s world, providing a lot of valuable advantages over conventional methods – and leveraging open-source tools for synthetic data generation is a strategic choice that offers substantial benefits. The cost savings, flexibility, and community-driven nature of these tools provide organizations with the means to enhance their synthetic data generation processes while remaining agile and responsive to changing requirements.

In conclusion, we can say that adapting to these technologies solves a lot of past problems, effectively and efficiently. Real-world data is always preferable but synthetic data provides the best substitution. Nevertheless, it's important to take into account that the generation of synthetic data necessitates the involvement of proficient data scientists well-versed in data modeling. Furthermore, a comprehensive comprehension of the authentic data and its context remains imperative. This is vital to guarantee that the generated data closely resembles the original dataset.

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