Supervised and Unsupervised Learning

I teach Big Data & Data Science at several universities and I work in that field also. Since I wrote a lot here on Big Data itself and there are now many young professionals deciding if they want to go for data science, I decided to write a short intro series to machine learning. After this intro, you should be capable of getting deeper into this topic and know where to start. To kick off the series, we’ll go over some basics of machine learning. The first part for this is about supervised and unsupervised learning.

One of the main ideas behind that is to find patterns in data and make predictions on that data without the need to develop each and every use-case from scratch. Therefore, a certain number of algorithms are available. These algorithms can be “classified” by how they work. the main two principles (which then can also be spilt) are:

• Supervised Learning
• Unsupervised Learning
• Semi-supervised Learning

Supervised Learning

With supervised learning, the algorithm learns basically by existing data and learning “from the past”. This means that there is basically a lot of learning data that allows the algorithm to find the patterns by learning from this data. We can also call this “a teacher”. It works closely to how we as humans learn: we get information from our parents, teachers and friends and combine this to make future predictions. Examples are:

• Manufacturing: if several properties of a material were of specific properties, the quality was either good or bad (or maybe scaled from several numbers). Now, if we produce a new material and we look at the properties of the material, based on the existing data we have from former productions, we can say how the quality will be. Properties of a material might be: hardness, color, …
• Banking: based on several properties of a potential borrower, we can predict if the person is capable of paying back the loan. This can be based on existing data of former customers and what the bank “learned” from them. The algorithm takes a lot of different variables into consideration. This variables can be income, montly liability to pay, education, job, etc.

Unsupervised Learning

With unsupervised learning we have no “teacher” available. The algorithms get data, and the algorithms try to find patterns in that. This can either be by clustering data (e.g. customer with high income, customer with low income, …) and make predictions based on that. An unsupervised learning algorithm can be useful for several use-cases. Below are some samples:

• Manufacturing: find anomalies in the production lines (e.g. the average output of units per hour was between 200 and 250, but on day D at time T, the output was only 20 units. The algorithm can cluster data into normal output and an anomaly that was detected.
• Banking: normally, the customer would only spend money in his home country. The algorithm detects an abnormal behaviour, like money transferd in a country that he normally isn’t in. This can be an indicator for fraud.

Last, but not least, there is Semi supervised learning, which is a combination of both. In many machine learning projects, not all training data that is used for supervised learning is available, so values might need to get predicted. This can be done by combining supervised and unsupervised learning algorithms and then work with the “curated” data on it.

Now that we basically understand the 3 main concepts of supervised, unsupervised and semi supervised learning, we can continue with variations within these concepts and some statistical background in the next post.

This tutorial is part of the Machine Learning Tutorial. You can learn more about Machine Learning by going through this tutorial. On Cloudvane, there are many more tutorials about (Big) Data, Data Science and alike, read about them in the Big Data Tutorials here. If you look for great datasets to play with, I would recommend you Kaggle.

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