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What is Reinforcement Learning?

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What is Reinforcement Learning?

Put simply, reinforcement learning is a machine learning technique that involves training an artificial intelligence agent through the repetition of actions and associated rewards. A reinforcement learning agent experiments in an environment, taking actions and being rewarded when the correct actions are taken. Over time, the agent learns to take the actions that will maximize its reward. That’s a quick definition of reinforcement learning, but taking a closer look at the concepts behind reinforcement learning will help you gain a better, more intuitive understanding of it.

Reinforcement In Psychology

The term “reinforcement learning” is adapted from the concept of reinforcement in psychology. For that reason, let’s take a moment to understand the psychological concept of reinforcement. In the psychological sense, the term reinforcement refers to something that increases the likelihood that a particular response/action will occur. This concept of reinforcement is a central idea of the theory of operant conditioning, initially proposed by the psychologist B.F. Skinner. In this context, reinforcement is anything that causes the frequency of a given behavior to increase. If we think about possible reinforcement for humans, these can be things like praise, a raise at work, candy, and fun activities.

In the traditional, psychological sense, there are two types of reinforcement. There’s positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is the addition of something to increase a behavior, like giving your dog a treat when it is well behaved. Negative reinforcement involves removing a stimulus to elicit a behavior, like shutting off loud noises to coax out a skittish cat.

Positive and Negative Reinforcement In Machine Learning

Positive reinforcement increases the frequency of a behavior while negative reinforcement decreases the frequency. In general, positive reinforcement is the most common type of reinforcement used in reinforcement learning, as it helps models maximize the performance on a given task. Not only that but positive reinforcement leads the model to make more sustainable changes, changes which can become consistent patterns and persist for long periods of time.

In contrast, while negative reinforcement also makes a behavior more likely to occur, it is used for maintaining a minimum performance standard rather than reaching a model’s maximum performance. Negative reinforcement in reinforcement learning can help ensure that a model is kept away from undesirable actions, but it can’t really make a  model explore desired actions.

Training A Reinforcement Agent

When a reinforcement learning agent is trained, there are four different ingredients or states used in the training: initial states (State 0), new state (State 1), actions, and rewards.

Imagine that we are training a reinforcement agent to play a platforming video game where the AI’s goal is to make it to the end of the level by moving right across the screen. The initial state of the game is drawn from the environment, meaning the first frame of the game is analyzed and given to the model. Based on this information, the model must decide on an action.

During the initial phases of training, these actions are random but as the model is reinforced, certain actions will become more common.  After the action is taken the environment of the game is updated and a new state or frame is created. If the action taken by the agent produced a desirable result, let’s say in this case that the agent is still alive and hasn’t been hit by an enemy, some reward is given to the agent and it becomes more likely to do the same in the future.

This basic system is constantly looped, happening again and again, and each time the agent tries to learn a little more and maximize its reward.

Episodic vs Continuous Tasks

Reinforcement learning tasks can typically be placed in one of two different categories: episodic tasks and continual tasks.

Episodic tasks will carry out the learning/training loop and improve their performance until some end criteria are met and the training is terminated. In a game, this might be reaching the end of the level or falling into a hazard like spikes. In contrast, continual tasks have no termination criteria, essentially continuing to train forever until the engineer chooses to end the training.

Monte Carlo vs Temporal Difference

There are two primary ways of learning, or training, a reinforcement learning agent. In the Monte Carlo approach, rewards are delivered to the agent (its score is updated) only at the end of the training episode. To put that another way, only when the termination condition is hit does the model learn how well it performed. It can then use this information to update and when the next training round is started it will respond in accordance to the new information.

The temporal-difference method differs from the Monte Carlo method in that the value estimation, or the score estimation, is updated during the course of the training episode. Once the model advances to the next time step the values are updated.

Explore vs Exploit

Training a reinforcement learning agent is a balancing act, involving the balancing of two different metrics: exploration and exploitation.

Exploration is the act of collecting more information about the surrounding environment, while exploration is using the information already known about the environment to earn reward points. If an agent only explores and never exploits the environment, the desired actions will never be carried out. On the other hand, if the agent only exploits and never explores, the agent will only learn to carry out one action and won’t discover other possible strategies of earning rewards. Therefore, balancing exploration and exploitation is critical when creating a reinforcement learning agent.

Uses For Reinforcement Learning

Reinforcement learning can be used in a wide variety of roles, and it is best suited for applications where tasks require automation.

Automation of tasks to be carried out by industrial robots is one area where reinforcement learning proves useful. Reinforcement learning can also be used for problems like text mining, creating models that are able to summarize long bodies of text. Researchers are also experimenting with using reinforcement learning in the healthcare field, with reinforcement agents handling jobs like the optimization of treatment policies. Reinforcement learning could also be used to customize educational material for students.

Concluding Thoughts

Reinforcement learning is a powerful method of constructing AI agents that can lead to impressive and sometimes surprising results. Training an agent through reinforcement learning can be complex and difficult, as it takes many training iterations and a delicate balance of the explore/exploit dichotomy. However, if successful, an agent created with reinforcement learning can carry out complex tasks under a wide variety of different environments.

To Learn More

Recommended Reinforcement Learning CoursesOffered ByDurationDifficulty


Introduction to Artificial Intelligence



IBM

9 Hours

Beginner


Fundamentals of Reinforcement Learning


University of Alberta

18 Hours

Beginner


Machine Learning Foundations


University of Washington

24 Hours

Intermediate


Reinforcement Learning Specialization


University of Alberta

3 Months

Intermediate
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Blogger and programmer with specialties in Machine Learning and Deep Learning topics. Daniel hopes to help others use the power of AI for social good.

AI 101

What is Bayes Theorem?

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What is Bayes Theorem?

If you’ve been learning about data science or machine learning, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the term “Bayes Theorem” before, or a “Bayes classifier”. These concepts can be somewhat confusing, especially if you aren’t used to thinking of probability from a traditional, frequentist statistics perspective. This article will attempt to explain the principles behind Bayes Theorem and how it’s used in machine learning.

Defining Bayes Theorem

Bayes Theorem is a method of calculating conditional probability. The traditional method of calculating conditional probability (the probability that one event occurs given the occurrence of a different event) is to use the conditional probability formula, calculating the joint probability of event one and event two occurring at the same time, and then dividing it by the probability of event two occurring. However, conditional probability can also be calculated in a slightly different fashion by using Bayes Theorem.

When calculating conditional probability with Bayes theorem, you use the following steps:

  • Determine the probability of condition B being true, assuming that condition A is true.
  • Determine the probability of event A being true.
  • Multiply the two probabilities together.
  • Divide by the probability of event B occurring.

This means that the formula for Bayes Theorem could be expressed like this:

P(A|B) = P(B|A)*P(A) / P(B)

Calculating the conditional probability like this is especially useful when the reverse conditional probability can be easily calculated, or when calculating the joint probability would be too challenging.

A Practical Example

This might be easier to interpret if we spend some time looking at an example of how you would apply Bayesian reasoning and Bayes Theorem. Let’s assume you were playing a simple game where multiple participants tell you a story and you have to determine which one of the participants is lying to you. Let’s fill in the equation for Bayes Theorem with the variables in this hypothetical scenario.

We’re trying to predict whether each individual in the game is lying or telling the truth, so if there are three players apart from you, the categorical variables can be expressed as A1, A2, and A3. The evidence for their lies/truth is their behavior. Like when playing poker, you would look for certain “tells” that a person is lying and use those as bits of information to inform your guess. Or if you were allowed to question them it would be any evidence their story doesn’t add up. We can represent the evidence that a person is lying as B.

To be clear, we’re aiming to predict Probability(A is lying/telling the truth|given the evidence of their behavior). To do this we’d want to figure out the probability of B given A, or the probability that their behavior would occur given the person genuinely lying or telling the truth. You’re trying to determine under which conditions the behavior you are seeing would make the most sense. If there are three behaviors you are witnessing, you would do the calculation for each behavior. For example, P(B1, B2, B3 * A). You would then do this for every occurrence of A/for every person in the game aside from yourself. That’s this part of the equation above:

P(B1, B2, B3,|A) * P|A

Finally, we just divide that by the probability of B.

If we received any evidence about the actual probabilities in this equation, we would recreate our probability model, taking the new evidence into account. This is called updating your priors, as you update your assumptions about the prior probability of the observed events occurring.

Machine Learning Applications

The most common use of Bayes theorem when it comes to machine learning is in the form of the Naive Bayes algorithm.

Naive Bayes is used for the classification of both binary and multi-class datasets, Naive Bayes gets its name because the values assigned to the witnesses evidence/attributes – Bs in P(B1, B2, B3 * A) – are assumed to be independent of one another. It’s assumed that these attributes don’t impact each other in order to simplify the model and make calculations possible, instead of attempting the complex task of calculating the relationships between each of the attributes. Despite this simplified model, Naive Bayes tends to perform quite well as a classification algorithm, even when this assumption probably isn’t true (which is most of the time).

There are also commonly used variants of the Naive Bayes classifier such as Multinomial Naive Bayes, Bernoulli Naive Bayes, and Gaussian Naive Bayes.

Multinomial Naive Bayes algorithms are often used to classify documents, as it is effective at interpreting the frequency of words within a document.

Bernoulli Naive Bayes operates similarly to Multinomial Naive Bayes, but the predictions rendered by the algorithm are booleans. This means that when predicting a class the values will be binary, no or yes. In the domain of text classification, a Bernoulli Naive Bayes algorithm would assign the parameters a yes or no based on whether or not a word is found within the text document.

If the value of the predictors/features aren’t discrete but are instead continuous, Gaussian Naive Bayes can be used. It’s assumed that the values the continuous features have been sampled from a gaussian distribution.

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What are RNNs and LSTMs in Deep Learning?

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What are RNNs and LSTMs in Deep Learning?

Many of the most impressive advances in natural language processing and AI chatbots are driven by Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) and Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) networks. RNNs and LSTMs are special neural network architectures that are able to process sequential data, data where chronological ordering matters. LSTMs are essentially improved versions of RNNs, capable of interpreting longer sequences of data. Let’s take a look at how RNNs and LSTMS are structured and how they enable the creation of sophisticated natural language processing systems.

Feed-Forward Neural Networks

So before we talk about how Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) and Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN) work, we should discuss the format of a neural network in general.

A neural network is intended to examine data and learn relevant patterns, so that these patterns can be applied to other data and new data can be classified. Neural networks are divided into three sections: an input layer, a hidden layer (or multiple hidden layers), and an output layer.

The input layer is what takes in the data into the neural network, while the hidden layers are what learn the patterns in the data. The hidden layers in the dataset are connected to the input and output layers by “weights” and “biases” which are just assumptions of how the data points are related to each other. These weights are adjusted during training. As the network trains, the model’s guesses about the training data (the output values) are compared against the actual training labels. During the course of training, the network should (hopefully) get more accurate at predicting relationships between data points, so it can accurately classify new data points. Deep neural networks are networks that have more layers in the middle/more hidden layers. The more hidden layers and more neurons/nodes the model has, the better the model can recognize patterns in the data.

Regular, feed-forward neural networks, like the ones I’ve described above are often called “dense neural networks”. These dense neural networks are combined with different network architectures that specialize in interpreting different kinds of data.

Recurrent Neural Networks

What are RNNs and LSTMs in Deep Learning?

Photo: fdeloche via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY S.A 4.0 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Recurrent_neural_network_unfold.svg)

Recurrent Neural Networks take the general principle of feed-forward neural networks and enable them to handle sequential data by giving the model an internal memory. The “Recurrent” portion of the RNN name comes from the fact that the input and outputs loop. Once the output of the network is produced, the output is copied and returned to the network as input. When making a decision, not only the current input and output are analyzed, but the previous input is also considered. To put that another way, if the initial input for the network is X and the output is H, both H and X1 (the next input in the data sequence) are fed into the network for the next round of learning. In this way, the context of the data (the previous inputs) is preserved as the network trains.

The result of this architecture is that RNNs are capable fo handling sequential data. However, RNNs suffer from a couple of issues. RNNs suffer from the vanishing gradient and exploding gradient problems.

The length of sequences that an RNN can interpret are rather limited, especially in comparison to LSTMs.

Long Short-Term Memory Networks

Long Short-Term Memory networks can be considered extensions of RNNs, once more applying the concept of preserving the context of inputs. However, LSTMs have been modified in several important ways that allow them to interpret past data with superior methods. The alterations made to LSTMs deal with the vanishing gradient problem and enable LSTMs to consider much longer input sequences.

What are RNNs and LSTMs in Deep Learning?

Photo: By https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:BiObserve (Raster version previously uploaded to Wikimedia)Alex Graves, Abdel-rahman Mohamed, and Geoffrey Hinton (original)Eddie Antonio Santos (SVG version with TeX math) – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Long_Short_Term_Memory.pngAlex Graves, Abdel-rahman Mohamed, and Geoffrey Hinton. Speech recognition with deep recurrent neural networks. In Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing (ICASSP), 2013 IEEE International Conference on, pages 6645–6649. IEEE, 2013., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59931189

LSTM models are made up of three different components, or gates. There’s an input gate, an output gate, and a forget gate. Much like RNNs, LSTMs take inputs from the previous timestep into account when modifying the model’s memory and input weights. The input gate makes decisions about which values are important and should be let through the model. A sigmoid function is used in the input gate, which makes determinations about which values to pass on through the recurrent network. Zero drops the value, while 1 preserves it. A TanH function is used here as well, which decides how important to the model the input values are, ranging from -1 to 1.

After the current inputs and memory state are accounted for, the output gate decides which values to push to the next time step. In the output gate, the values are analyzed and assigned an importance ranging from -1 to 1. This regulates the data before it is carried on to the next time-step calculation.  Finally, the job of the forget gate is to drop information that the model deems unnecessary to make a decision about the nature of the input values. The forget gate uses a sigmoid function on the values, outputting numbers between 0 (forget this) and 1 (keep this).

An LSTM neural network is made out of both special LSTM layers that can interpret sequential word data and the densely connected like those described above. Once the data moves through the LSTM layers, it proceeds into the densely connected layers.

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AI 101

What is K-Nearest Neighbors?

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What is K-Nearest Neighbors?

K-Nearest Neighbors is a machine learning technique and algorithm that can be used for both regression and classification tasks. K-Nearest Neighbors examines the labels of a chosen number of data points surrounding a target data point, in order to make a prediction about the class that the data point falls into. K-Nearest Neighbors (KNN) is a conceptually simple yet very powerful algorithm, and for those reasons, it’s one of the most popular machine learning algorithms. Let’s take a deep dive into the KNN algorithm and see exactly how it works. Having a good understanding of how KNN operates will let you appreciated the best and worst use cases for KNN.

An Overview Of KNN

What is K-Nearest Neighbors?

Photo: Antti Ajanki AnAj via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA 3.0 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KnnClassification.svg)

Let’s visualize a dataset on a 2D plane. Picture a bunch of data points on a graph, spread out along the graph in small clusters. KNN examines the distribution of the data points and, depending on the arguments given to the model, it separates the data points into groups. These groups are then assigned a label. The primary assumption that a KNN model makes is that data points/instances which exist in close proximity to each other are highly similar, while if a data point is far away from another group it’s dissimilar to those data points.

A KNN model calculates similarity using the distance between two points on a graph. The greater the distance between the points, the less similar they are. There are multiple ways of calculating the distance between points, but the most common distance metric is just Euclidean distance (the distance between two points in a straight line).

KNN is a supervised learning algorithm, meaning that the examples in the dataset must have labels assigned to them/their classes must be known. There are two other important things to know about KNN. First, KNN is a non-parametric algorithm. This means that no assumptions about the dataset are made when the model is used. Rather, the model is constructed entirely from the provided data. Second, there is no splitting of the dataset into training and test sets when using KNN. KNN makes no generalizations between a training and testing set, so all the training data is also used when the model is asked to make predictions.

How The KNN Algorithm Operates

A KNN algorithm goes through three main phases as it is carried out:

  1. Setting K to the chosen number of neighbors.
  2. Calculating the distance between a provided/test example and the dataset examples.
  3. Sorting the calculated distances.
  4. Getting the labels of the top K entries.
  5. Returning a prediction about the test example.

In the first step, K is chosen by the user and it tells the algorithm how many neighbors (how many surrounding data points) should be considered when rendering a judgment about the group the target example belongs to. In the second step, note that the model checks the distance between the target example and every example in the dataset. The distances are then added into a list and sorted. Afterward, the sorted list is checked and the labels for the top K elements are returned. In other words, if K is set to 5, the model checks the labels of the top 5 closest data points to the target data point. When rendering a prediction about the target data point, it matters if the task is a regression or classification task. For a regression task, the mean of the top K labels is used, while the mode of the top K labels is used in the case of classification.

The exact mathematical operations used to carry out KNN differ depending on the chosen distance metric. If you would like to learn more about how the metrics are calculated, you can read about some of the most common distance metrics, such as Euclidean, Manhattan, and Minkowski.

Why The Value Of K Matters

The main limitation when using KNN is that in an improper value of K (the wrong number of neighbors to be considered) might be chosen. If this happen, the predictions that are returned can be off substantially. It’s very important that, when using a KNN algorithm, the proper value for K is chosen. You want to choose a value for K that maximizes the model’s ability to make predictions on unseen data while reducing the number of errors it makes.

What is K-Nearest Neighbors?

Photo: Agor153 via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA 3.0 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map1NN.png)

Lower values of K mean that the predictions rendered by the KNN are less stable and reliable. To get an intuition of why this is so, consider a case where we have 7 neighbors around a target data point. Let’s assume that the KNN model is working with a K value of 2 (we’re asking it to look at the two closest neighbors to make a prediction). If the vast majority of the neighbors (five out of seven) belong to the Blue class, but the two closest neighbors just happen to be Red, the model will predict that the query example is Red. Despite the model’s guess, in such a scenario Blue would be a better guess.

If this is the case, why not just choose the highest K value we can? This is because telling the model to consider too many neighbors will also reduce accuracy. As the radius that the KNN model considers increases, it will eventually start considering data points that are closer to other groups than they are the target data point and misclassification will start occurring. For example, even if the point that was initially chosen was in one of the red regions above, if K was set too high, the model would reach into the other regions to consider points. When using a KNN model, different values of K are tried to see which value gives the model the best performance.

KNN Pros And Cons

Let’s examine some of the pros and cons of the KNN model.

Pros:

KNN can be used for both regression and classification tasks, unlike some other supervised learning algorithms.

KNN is highly accurate and simple to use. It’s easy to interpret, understand, and implement.

KNN doesn’t make any assumptions about the data, meaning it can be used for a wide variety of problems.

Cons:

KNN stores most or all of the data, which means that the model requires a lot of memory and its computationally expensive. Large datasets can also cause predictions to be take a long time.

KNN proves to be very sensitive to the scale of the dataset and it can be thrown off by irrelevant features fairly easily in comparison to other models.

Summing Up

K-Nearest Neighbors is one of the simplest machine learning algorithms. Despite how simple KNN is, in concept, it’s also a powerful algorithm that gives fairly high accuracy on most problems. When you use KNN, be sure to experiment with various values of K in order to find the number that provides the highest accuracy.

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