Support Vector Machines (SVMs) is a group of powerful classifiers. In this article, I will give a short impression of how they work. I continue with an example how to use SVMs with sklearn.

## SVM theory

SVMs can be described with 5 ideas in mind:

**Linear, binary classifiers**: If data is linearly separable, it can be separated by a hyperplane. There is one hyperplane which maximizes the distance to the next datapoints (support vectors). This hyperplane should be taken:

$$ \begin{aligned} \text{minimize}_{\mathbf{w}, b}\,&\frac{1}{2} \|\mathbf{w}\|^2\\ \text{s.t. }& \forall_{i=1}^m y_i \cdot \underbrace{(\langle \mathbf{w}, \mathbf{x}_i\rangle + b)}_{\text{Classification}} \geq 1 \end{aligned}$$**Slack variables**: Even if the underlying process which generates the features for the two classes is linearly separable, noise can make the data not separable. The introduction of*slack variables*to relax the requirement of linear separability solves this problem. The trade-off between accepting some errors and a more complex model is weighted by a parameter $C \in \mathbb{R}_0^+$. The bigger $C$, the more errors are accepted. The new optimization problem is: $$ \begin{aligned} \text{minimize}_{\mathbf{w}, b}\,&\frac{1}{2} \|\mathbf{w}\|^2 + C \cdot \sum_{i=1}^m \xi_i\\ \text{s.t. }& \forall_{i=1}^m y_i \cdot (\langle \mathbf{w}, \mathbf{x}_i\rangle + b) \geq 1 - \xi_i \end{aligned}$$ Note that $0 \le \xi_i \le 1$ means that the data point is within the margin, whereas $\xi_i \ge 1$ means it is misclassified. An SVM with $C > 0$ is also called a*soft-margin SVM*.**Dual Problem**: The primal problem is to find the normal vector $\mathbf{w}$ and the bias $b$. The dual problem is to express $\mathbf{w}$ as a linear combination of the training data $\mathbf{x}_i$: $$\mathbf{w} = \sum_{i=1}^m \alpha_i y_i \mathbf{x}_i$$ where $y_i \in \{-1, 1\}$ represents the class of the training example and $\alpha_i$ are Lagrange multipliers. The usage of Lagrange multipliers is explained with some examples in [Smi04]. The usage of the Lagrange multipliers $\alpha_i$ changes the optimization problem depend on the $\alpha_i$ which are weights for the feature vectors. It turns out that most $\alpha_i$ will be zero. The non-zero weighted vectors are called*support vectors*. The optimization problem is now, according to [Bur98] (a great read; if you really want to understand it I can recommend it!): $$ \begin{aligned} \text{maximize}_{\alpha_i}\,& \sum_{i=1}^m \alpha_i - \frac{1}{2} \sum_{i=1}^m \sum_{j=1}^m \alpha_i \alpha_j y_i y_j \langle \mathbf{x}_i, \mathbf{x}_j \rangle\\ \text{s.t. } & \forall_{i=1}^m 0 \leq \alpha_i \leq C\\ \text{s.t. } & \sum_{i=1}^m \alpha_i y_i = 0 \end{aligned}$$**Kernel-Trick**: Not every dataset is linearly separable. This problem is approached by transforming the feature vectors $\mathbf{x}$ with a non-linear mapping $\Phi$ into a higher dimensional (probably $\infty$-dimensional) space. As the feature vectors $\mathbf{x}$ are only used within scalar product $\langle \mathbf{x}_i, \mathbf{x}_j \rangle$, it is not necessary to do the transformation. It is enough to do the calculation $$K(\mathbf{x}_i, \mathbf{x}_j) = \langle \mathbf{x}_i, \mathbf{x}_j \rangle$$ This function $K$ is called a*kernel*. The idea of never explicitly transforming the vectors $\mathbf{x}_i$ to the higher dimensional space is called the*kernel trick*. Common kernels include the polynomial kernel $$K_P(\mathbf{x}_i, \mathbf{x}_j) = (\langle \mathbf{x}_i, \mathbf{x}_j \rangle + r)^p$$ of degree $p$ and coefficient $r$, the Gaussian RBF kernel $$K_{\text{Gauss}}(\mathbf{x}_i, \mathbf{x}_j) = e^{\frac{-\gamma\|\mathbf{x}_i - \mathbf{x}_j\|^2}{2 \sigma^2}}$$ and the sigmoid kernel $$K_{\text{tanh}}(\mathbf{x}_i, \mathbf{x}_j) = \tanh(\gamma \langle \mathbf{x}_i, \mathbf{x}_j \rangle - r)$$ where the parameter $\gamma$ determines how much influence single training examples have.**Multiple Classes**: By using the*one-vs-all*or the*one-vs-one*strategy it is possible to get a classifying system which can distinguish many classes.

A nice visualization of the transformation of the data in a higher-dimensional space was done by

TeamGrizzly's channel: Performing nonlinear classification via linear separation in higher dimensional space on YouTube. 22.11.2010.

See also:

- What is an example of a SVM kernel, where one implicitly uses an infinity-dimensional space?
- SVM - hard or soft margins?

## sklearn

`sklearn`

is the machine learning toolkit to get started for Python. It has
a very good documentation and many functions. You can find installation
instructions on their website.

It also includes `sklearn.svm.SVC`

.
SVC is short for *support vector classifier* and this is how you use it for
the MNIST dataset.

Parameters for which you might want a further explanation:

`cache_size`

: datascience.stackexchange.com

```
#!/usr/bin/env python
"""
Train a SVM to categorize 28x28 pixel images into digits (MNIST dataset).
"""
import numpy as np
def main():
"""Orchestrate the retrival of data, training and testing."""
data = get_data()
# Get classifier
from sklearn.svm import SVC
clf = SVC(probability=False, kernel="rbf", C=2.8, gamma=0.0073) # cache_size=200,
print("Start fitting. This may take a while")
# take all of it - make that number lower for experiments
examples = len(data["train"]["X"])
clf.fit(data["train"]["X"][:examples], data["train"]["y"][:examples])
analyze(clf, data)
def analyze(clf, data):
"""
Analyze how well a classifier performs on data.
Parameters
----------
clf : classifier object
data : dict
"""
# Get confusion matrix
from sklearn import metrics
predicted = clf.predict(data["test"]["X"])
print(
"Confusion matrix:\n%s" % metrics.confusion_matrix(data["test"]["y"], predicted)
)
print("Accuracy: %0.4f" % metrics.accuracy_score(data["test"]["y"], predicted))
# Print example
try_id = 1
out = clf.predict(data["test"]["X"][try_id]) # clf.predict_proba
print("out: %s" % out)
size = int(len(data["test"]["X"][try_id]) ** (0.5))
view_image(
data["test"]["X"][try_id].reshape((size, size)), data["test"]["y"][try_id]
)
def view_image(image, label=""):
"""
View a single image.
Parameters
----------
image : numpy array
Make sure this is of the shape you want.
label : str
"""
from matplotlib.pyplot import show, imshow, cm
print("Label: %s" % label)
imshow(image, cmap=cm.gray)
show()
def get_data():
"""
Get data ready to learn with.
Returns
-------
dict
"""
simple = False
if simple: # Load the simple, but similar digits dataset
from sklearn.datasets import load_digits
from sklearn.utils import shuffle
digits = load_digits()
x = [np.array(el).flatten() for el in digits.images]
y = digits.target
# Scale data to [-1, 1] - This is of mayor importance!!!
# In this case, I know the range and thus I can (and should) scale
# manually. However, this might not always be the case.
# Then try sklearn.preprocessing.MinMaxScaler or
# sklearn.preprocessing.StandardScaler
x = x / 255.0 * 2 - 1
x, y = shuffle(x, y, random_state=0)
from sklearn.cross_validation import train_test_split
x_train, x_test, y_train, y_test = train_test_split(
x, y, test_size=0.33, random_state=42
)
data = {
"train": {"X": x_train, "y": y_train},
"test": {"X": x_test, "y": y_test},
}
else: # Load the original dataset
from sklearn.datasets import fetch_mldata
from sklearn.utils import shuffle
mnist = fetch_mldata("MNIST original")
x = mnist.data
y = mnist.target
# Scale data to [-1, 1] - This is of mayor importance!!!
x = x / 255.0 * 2 - 1
x, y = shuffle(x, y, random_state=0)
from sklearn.cross_validation import train_test_split
x_train, x_test, y_train, y_test = train_test_split(
x, y, test_size=0.33, random_state=42
)
data = {
"train": {"X": x_train, "y": y_train},
"test": {"X": x_test, "y": y_test},
}
return data
if __name__ == "__main__":
main()
```

## Results

The script from above gives the following results:

0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | |
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

0 | 2258 | 1 | 4 | 1 | 2 | 2 | 3 | 1 | 4 | 2 |

1 | 1 | 2566 | 9 | 1 | 1 | 0 | 0 | 7 | 3 | 0 |

2 | 4 | 1 | 2280 | 5 | 4 | 0 | 1 | 9 | 8 | 2 |

3 | 0 | 0 | 14 | 2304 | 1 | 13 | 0 | 6 | 8 | 2 |

4 | 2 | 2 | 2 | 0 | 2183 | 0 | 7 | 5 | 0 | 10 |

5 | 4 | 0 | 0 | 16 | 3 | 2026 | 12 | 1 | 4 | 3 |

6 | 7 | 5 | 3 | 0 | 5 | 2 | 2245 | 0 | 4 | 0 |

7 | 1 | 6 | 11 | 2 | 5 | 1 | 0 | 2373 | 5 | 13 |

8 | 3 | 9 | 4 | 9 | 4 | 10 | 2 | 3 | 2166 | 5 |

9 | 3 | 2 | 2 | 6 | 19 | 6 | 0 | 12 | 10 | 2329 |

- Accuracy: 98.40%
- Error: 1.60%

Looks pretty good to me. However, note that there are much better results. The best on the official website has an error of 0.23% and is a committee of 35 convolutional neural networks.

The best SVM I could find has an error of 0.56% and applies a polynomial kernel of degree 9 as well as some preprocessing.

## References

- [Smi04] B. T. Smith, “Lagrange multipliers tutorial in the context of support vector machines,” Memorial University of Newfoundland St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, Jun. 2004.
- [Bur98] C. J. Burges, “A tutorial on support vector machines for pattern recognition”, Data mining and knowledge discovery, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 121–167, 1998.

## See also

- Recognizing hand-written digits
- Trung Huynh's tech blog: Digit Recognition using SVM in Python
- Classifier comparison
- Supervised learning
- How can SVM 'find' an infinite feature space where linear separation is always possible?