Types Of Machine Learning Systems

There are so many different types of machine learning systems that it is useful to classify them into broad categories, based on the following criteria:

  • Whether or not they are trained with human supervision (supervised, unsupervised, semi-supervised, and reinforcement learning)
  • Whether or not they can learn incrementally on the fly (online versus batch learning)
  • Whether they work by simply comparing new data points to known data points, or instead by detecting patterns in the training data and building a predictive model, much like scientists do (instance-based vs. Model-based learning)

These criteria are not exclusive; you can combine them in any way you like. For example, a state-of-the-art spam filter may learn on the Fly using a deep neural network model trained using examples of spam and ham; this makes it an online, model-based, supervised Learning system.

Let’s look at the first criterion a bit more closely.

Supervised/unsupervised learning

Supervised learning

figure 1

A typical supervised learning task is classification. The spam filter is a good example of this: it is trained with many example emails along with their class (spam or Ham), and it must learn how to classify new emails.

Another typical task is to predict a target numeric value, such as the price of a car, given a set of features (mileage, age, brand, etc) called predictors. This sort of task is called regression. To train the system, you need to give it many examples of cars, including both their predictors and their labels (i.e., their prices).

Note that some regression algorithms can be used for classification as well, and vice versa. For example, logistic regression is commonly used for classification, as it can output a value that corresponds to the probability of belonging to a given class (e.g., 20% chance of being spam).

Unsupervised learning

figure 2

For example, say you have a lot of data about your blog’s visitors. You may want to run a clustering algorithm to try to detect groups of similar visitors (figure 3). At no point do you tell the algorithm which group a visitor belongs to: it finds those connections without your help. For example, it might notice that 40% of your visitors are males who love comic books and generally read your blog in the evening, while 20% are young and sci-fi lovers who visit during the weekends. If you use a hierarchical clustering algorithm, it may also subdivide each group into smaller groups. This may help you target your posts for each group.

figure 3

Visualization algorithms are also good examples of unsupervised learning algorithms: you feed them a lot of complex and unlabeled data, and they output a 2D or 3D representation of your data that can easily be plotted (figure 4). These algorithms try to preserve as much structure as they can (e.g., trying to keep separate clusters in the input space from overlapping in the visualization) so that you can understand how the data is organized and perhaps identify unsuspected patterns.

figure 4

A related task is dimensionality reduction in which the goal is to simplify the data without losing too much information. One way to do this is to merge several correlated features into one. For example, a car’s mileage may be strongly correlated with its age, so the dimensionality reduction algorithm will merge them into one feature that represents the car’s wear and tear. This is called feature extraction.

Yet another important unsupervised task is anomaly detection. For example, detecting unusual credit card transactions to prevent fraud, catching manufacturing defects, or automatically removing outliers from a dataset before feeding it to another learning algorithm. The system is shown mostly normal instances during training, so it learns to recognize them; then, when it sees a new instance, it can tell whether it looks like a normal one or whether it is likely an anomaly (figure 5). A very similar task is novelty detection: it aims to detect new instances that look different from all instances in the training set. This requires having a very “clean” training set, devoid of any instance that you would like the algorithm to detect. For example, if you have thousands of pictures of dogs, and 1% of these pictures represent chihuahuas, then a novelty detection algorithm should not treat new pictures of Chihuahuas as novelties. On the other hand, anomaly detection algorithms may consider these dogs So rare and so different from other dogs that they would likely classify them as anomalies (no offense to Chihuahuas).

figure 5

Finally, Another common unsupervised task is association rule learning, in which the goal is to dig into large amounts of data and discover interesting relations between attributes. For example, suppose you own a supermarket. Running an association rule on your sales logs may reveal that people who purchase barbecue sauce and potato chips also tend to buy steak. Thus, you may want to place these items close to one another.

Semisupervised Learning

figure 6

Some photo hosting services, such as Google photos, are good examples of this. Once you upload all your family photos to the service, it automatically recognizes that the same person A shows up in photos 1, 5, and 11, while another person B shows up in photos 2, 5, and 7. This is the unsupervised part of the algorithm (clustering). Now all the system needs is for you to tell it who these people are. Just and one label per person and it is able to name everyone in every photo, which is useful for searching photos.

Most semisupervised learning algorithms are combinations of unsupervised and supervised algorithms. For example, deep belief networks (DBNs) are based on unsupervised components called the restricted Boltzmann machines (RBMs) stacked on top of one another. RBMs are trained sequentially in an unsupervised manner, and then the whole system is fine-tuned using supervised learning techniques.

Reinforcement Learning

figure 7

For example, Many robots Implement Reinforcement Learning algorithms to learn how to walk. DeepMind’s AlphaGo program is also a good example of Reinforcement Learning: it made the headlines in May 2017 when it beat the world Champion Ke Jie at the game of Go. It learned its winning policy by analyzing millions of games, and then playing many games against itself. Note that learning was turned off during the game against the champion; AlphaGo was just applying the policy it had learned.

M.Sc in Information Technology

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