Similarity and Dissimilarity Metrics – Kernel Distance

In the field of unsupervised machine learning, similarity and dissimilarity metrics (and matrices) are part and parcel. These are core components of clustering algorithms or natural language processing summarization techniques, just to name a couple.

While at first glance distance metrics look like child’s play, the fact of the matter is that when you get down to business there are a lot of decisions to make, and who likes that? to make matters worse:

  • Theoretical guidance is nowhere to be found
  • Your choices and decisions matter, in the sense that results materially change

After reading this post you will understand concepts like distance metrics, (dis)similarity metrics, and see why it’s fashionable to use kernels as similarity metrics.

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Hyper-Parameter Optimization using Random Search

Hyper-parameters are parameters which are not estimated as an integral part of the model. We decide on those parameters but we don’t estimate them within, but rather beforehand. Therefore they are called hyper-parameters, as in “above” sense.

Almost all machine learning algorithms have some hyper-parameters. Data-driven choice of hyper-parameters means typically, that you re-estimate the model and check performance for different hyper-parameters’ configurations. This adds considerable computational burden. One popular approach to set hyper-parameters is based on a grid-search over possible values using the validation set. Faster and simpler ways to intelligently choose hyper-parameters’ values would go a long way in keeping the stretched computational cost at a level you can tolerate.

Enter the paper “Random Search for Hyper-Parameter Optimization” by James Bergstra and Yoshua Bengio, suggesting with a straight face not to use grid-search but instead, look for good values completely at random. This is very counterintuitive, for how can a random guesses within some region compete with systematically covering the same region? What’s the story there?

Below I share the message of that paper, along with what I personally believe is actually going on (and the two are very different).

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What is the Kernel Trick?

Every so often I read about the kernel trick. Each time I read about it I need to relearn what it is. Now I am thinking “Eran, don’t you have this fancy blog of yours where you write about statistics you don’t want to forget?” and then: “why indeed I do have a fancy blog where I write about statistics I don’t want to forget”. So in this post I explain the “trick” in kernel trick and why it is useful.

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Local Linear Forests

Random forests is one of the most powerful pure-prediction algorithms; immensely popular with modern statisticians. Despite the potent performance, improvements to the basic random forests algorithm are still possible. One such improvement is put forward in a recent paper called Local Linear Forests which I review in this post. To enjoy the read you need to be already familiar with the basic version of random forests.

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Publication in Significance – code

Couple of months ago I published a paper in Significance – couple of pages describing the essence of deep learning algorithms, and why they are so popular. I got a few requests for the code which generated the figures in that paper. This weekend I reviewed my code and was content to see that I used a pseudorandom numbers, with a seed (as oppose to completely random numbers; without a seed). So now the figures are exactly reproducible. The actual code to produce the figures, and the figures themselves (e.g. for teaching purposes) are provided below.

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What’s the big idea? Deep learning algorithms

Deep learning algorithms are increasingly featuring in popular news outlets, large-scale media events and academic conferences. But what makes them so popular? Why now?

I recently published what I hope is an easy read for all of you modern-statistics geeks lovers; explaining the thrust behind this machine-learning class of models.

You can download the two-pager from Significance, specifically here (subscription required).

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Random forest importance measures are NOT important

Random Forests (RF from here onwards) is a widely used pure-prediction algorithm. This post assumes good familiarity with RF. If you are not familiar with this algorithm, stop here and see the first reference below for an easy tutorial. If you used RF before and you are familiar with it, then you probably encountered those “importance of the variables” plots. We start with a brief explanation of those plots, and the concept of importance scores calculation. Main takeaway from the post: don’t use those importance scores plots, because they are simply misleading. Those importance plots are simply a wrong turn taken by our human tendency to look for reason, whether it’s there or it’s not there.

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Curse of Dimensionality part 4: Distance Metrics

Many machine learning algorithms rely on distances between data points as their input, sometimes the only input, especially so for clustering and ranking algorithms. The celebrated k-nearest neighbors (KNN) algorithm is our example chief, but distances are also frequently used as an input in the natural language processing domain; “You shall know a word by the company it keeps” (Firth, J. R. 1957:11); e.g. the word “jaguar” refers to the animal if words like “zoo” or “safari” are also in the neighborhood. But would refer to a mark of a car if words such as “parking” or “highway” are nearby. But (and a big one), ‘in the neighborhood’ means one thing in a low-dimension settings, and another thing in high-dimensional settings. This post emphasizes this important difference- another example of the curse of dimensionality; measuring distance in high dimension.

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Most popular machine learning R packages – part 2

In a previous post: Most popular machine learning R packages, trying to hash out what are the most frequently used machine learning packages, I simply chose few names from my own memory. However, there is a CRAN task views web page which “aims to provide some guidance which packages on CRAN are relevant for tasks related to a certain topic.” So instead of relying on my own experience, in this post I correct for the bias by simply looking at the topic
Machine Learning & Statistical Learning. There are currently around 100 of those packages on CRAN.

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Understanding K-Means Clustering

Introduction

Google “K-means clustering”, and you usually you find ugly explanations and math-heavy sensational formulas*. It is my opinion that you can only understand those explanations if you don’t need them; meaning you are already familiar with the topic. Therefore, this is a more gentle introduction to K-means clustering. Here you will find out what K-Means Clustering, an algorithm, actually does. You will get only the basics, but in this particular topic, the extensions are not wildely different.

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Most popular machine learning R packages

The good thing about using open-source software is the community around it. There are very many R packages online, and recently CRAN package download logs were released. This means we can have a look at the number of downloads for each package, so to get a good feel for their relative popularity. I pulled the log files from the server and checked a few packages which are known to be related to machine learning. With this post you can see which are the community favorites, and get a feel for the R-software trend growth.

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