ML in Action - Part 1: KNN toy example

I bought the book “Machine Learning in Action” by Peter Harrington back in May, but haven’t found time to really read it. I keep wavering on what the best approach to understanding Machine Learning is. Should I start with basic statistics and probability and linear algebra followed by a heavy dose of theory? Or should I jump in to practical usage and leverage machine learning libraries such as Scikit Learn? Harrington’s book focuses on practical usage and examples, but also provides the implementation details of the algorithms he covers. Math and theory are kept to a minimum. The first algorithm he describes is K-Nearest-Neighbors (kNN).

The kNN algorithm is intuitive and easy to understand. Basically if you can plot each data-point on a graph, nearby points are likely to be of the same classification. The number of neighbors to use is designated by the variable k.

Harrington starts off with a simple example that uses (x,y) coordinates. This is helpful because we can graph the coordinates and see the clusters. If a more realistic example was used with say five dimensions, it would be difficult to draw. The other benefit is we can use Euclidean distance to calculate distance from points.

Here is the basic algorithm:

  1. For each point in our training set, calculate the distance to our myster point.
  2. Get the top K closet points (nearest neighbors)
  3. Return the label found most of often in the top K points

The sample code that Harrington uses relies on numpy. This made the code a bit more obscure since I’m a novice with numpy. For educational purposes I wrote my own implementation using basic python:

import math
import numpy as np

def createDataSet():
    Creates a basic data set labels.

    The labels are the classification given to the points. The data
    is hardcoded in this toy example.

        A numpy array of (x,y) points and a corresponding list of labels
    group = np.array([[1.0, 1.1], [1.0, 1.0], [0, 0], [0, 0.1]])
    labels = ['A', 'A', 'B', 'B']
    return group, labels

def classify(point, training_set, labels, k=1):
    Classify a given point using the training set and associated labels.

        point: A tuple of (x,y) coordinates
        training_set: An array of (x,y) coordinates
        labels: Labels associate with training set
        k: Number of neighbors to take into account

        Classification for given point

    # Calculate distance between points using Euclidean distance and sort closest
    distances = []
    for i, c in enumerate(training_set):
        distances.append((math.sqrt((c[0] - point[0])**2 + (c[0] - point[1])**2), i))

    # Get the top closest points
    top_knn = []
    num = 1
    for distance in distances:
        num += 1
        if num > k:

    # Count most labels in top_knn
    label_count = {}
    for _, i in top_knn:
        if labels[i] in label_count:
            label_count[labels[i]] += 1
            label_count[labels[i]] = 1

    # Return classification with most matches
    _, label = max([(c, l) for (l, c) in label_count.iteritems()])
    return label

def main():
    group, labels = createDataSet()
    print classify([0, 0], group, labels, 2)

if __name__ == '__main__':

The toy example only covers the first section of chapter 2. The latter sections of this chapter cover more complicated examples, such as handwritten digit recognition and dating site classification.

I plan to write about those sections as I get to them.