K-means clustering in Machine Learning

Say you are given a data set where each observed example has a set of features, but has no labels. Labels are an essential ingredient to a supervised algorithm like Support Vector Machines, which learns a hypothesis function to predict labels given features. So we can’t run supervised learning. What can we do?

One of the most straightforward tasks we can perform on a data set without labels is to find groups of data in our dataset which are similar to one another — what we call clusters.

K-Means is one of the most popular “clustering” algorithms. K-means stores $k$ centroids that it uses to define clusters. A point is considered to be in a particular cluster if it is closer to that cluster’s centroid than any other centroid.

K-Means finds the best centroids by alternating between (1) assigning data points to clusters based on the current centroids (2) chosing centroids (points which are the center of a cluster) based on the current assignment of data points to clusters.

K-means clustering is one of the simplest and popular unsupervised machine learning algorithms. Typically, unsupervised algorithms make inferences from datasets using only input vectors without referring to known, or labelled, outcomes.

The objective of K-means is simple: group similar data points together and discover underlying patterns. To achieve this objective, K-means looks for a fixed number (k) of clusters in a dataset. A cluster refers to a collection of data points aggregated together because of certain similarities.

We can define a target number k, which refers to the number of centroids you need in the dataset. A centroid is the imaginary or real location representing the center of the cluster.

Every data point is allocated to each of the clusters through reducing the in-cluster sum of squares.

In other words, the K-means algorithm identifies k number of centroids, and then allocates every data point to the nearest cluster, while keeping the centroids as small as possible.

The ‘means’ in the K-means refers to averaging of the data; that is, finding the centroid.

How the K-means algorithm works

To process the learning data, the K-means algorithm in data mining starts with a first group of randomly selected centroids, which are used as the beginning points for every cluster, and then performs iterative (repetitive) calculations to optimize the positions of the centroids

It halts creating and optimizing clusters when either:

  • The centroids have stabilized — there is no change in their values because the clustering has been successful.
  • The defined number of iterations has been achieved.

K-means clustering is an extensively used technique for data cluster analysis. It is easy to understand, especially if you accelerate your learning using a K-means clustering tutorial. Furthermore, it delivers training results quickly. However, its performance is usually not as competitive as those of the other sophisticated clustering techniques because slight variations in the data could lead to high variance. Furthermore, clusters are assumed to be spherical and evenly sized, something which may reduce the accuracy of the K-means clustering Python results.

Applications of Clustering in Real-World Scenarios

Clustering is a widely used technique in the industry. It is actually being used in almost every domain, ranging from banking to recommendation engines, document clustering to image segmentation.

Customer Segmentation

We covered this earlier — one of the most common applications of clustering is customer segmentation. And it isn’t just limited to banking. This strategy is across functions, including telecom, e-commerce, sports, advertising, sales, etc.

Document Clustering

This is another common application of clustering. Let’s say you have multiple documents and you need to cluster similar documents together. Clustering helps us group these documents such that similar documents are in the same clusters.

Image Segmentation

We can also use clustering to perform image segmentation. Here, we try to club similar pixels in the image together. We can apply clustering to create clusters having similar pixels in the same group.

You can refer to this article to see how we can make use of clustering for image segmentation tasks.

Recommendation Engines

Clustering can also be used in Recommendation engine. Let’s say you want to recommend songs to your friends. You can look at the songs liked by that person and then use clustering to find similar songs and finally recommend the most similar songs.

There are many more applications which I’m sure you have already thought of. You can share these applications in the comments section below.

K-Means is really just the EM (Expectation Maximization) algorithm applied to a particular naive bayes model.

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Tirth Patel

Tirth Patel

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