A clustering task: the prediction of plant species from floreal measures (the iris dataset)

The task is to estimate the species of a plant given some floreal measurements. It use the classical "Iris" dataset. Note that in this example we are using clustering approaches, so we try to understand the "structure" of our data, without relying to actually knowing the true labels ("classes" or "factors"). However we have chosen a dataset for which the true labels are actually known, so to compare the accuracy of the algorithms we use, but these labels will not be used during the algorithms training.

Data origin:

!!! warning As the above example is automatically executed by GitHub on every code update, it uses parameters (epoch numbers, parameter space of hyperparameter validation, number of trees,...) that minimise the computation. In real case you will want to use better but more computationally intensive ones. For the same reason benchmarks codes are commented and the pre-run output reported rather than actually being executed.

Library and data loading

We load the Beta Machine Learning Toolkit as well as some other packages that we use in this tutorial

using BetaML
using Random, Statistics, Logging, BenchmarkTools, RDatasets, Plots, DataFrames

We are also going to compare our results with two other leading packages in Julia for clustering analysis, Clustering.jl that provides (inter alia) kmeans and kmedoids algorithms and GaussianMixtures.jl that provides, as the name says, Gaussian Mixture Models. So we import them (we "import" them, rather than "use", not to bound their full names into namespace as some would collide with BetaML).

import Clustering, GaussianMixtures

We do a few tweeks for the Clustering and GaussianMixtures packages. Note that in BetaML we can also control both the random seed and the verbosity in the algorithm call, not only globally

#logger  = Logging.SimpleLogger(stdout, Logging.Error); global_logger(logger); ## For suppressing GaussianMixtures output

Differently from the regression tutorial, we load the data here from [RDatasets](https://github.com/JuliaStats/RDatasets.jl](https://github.com/JuliaStats/RDatasets.jl), a package providing standard datasets.

iris = dataset("datasets", "iris")

5 rows × 7 columns

5Speciessetosavirginica0CategoricalValue{String, UInt8}

The iris dataset provides floreal measures in columns 1 to 4 and the assigned species name in column 5. There are no missing values

Data preparation

The first step is to prepare the data for the analysis. We collect the first 4 columns as our feature x matrix and the last one as our y label vector. As we are using clustering algorithms, we are not actually using the labels to train the algorithms, we'll behave like we do not know them, we'll just let the algorithm "learn" fro mthe structure of the data itself. We'll however use it to judge the accuracy that they did reach.

x       = Matrix{Float64}(iris[:,1:4]);
yLabels = unique(iris[:,5]);

As the labels are expressed as strings, the first thing we do is encode them as integers for our analysis using the function integerEncoder.

y       = integerEncoder(iris[:,5],factors=yLabels);

The dataset from RDatasets is ordered by species, so we need to shuffle it to avoid biases. Shuffling happens by default in crossValidation, but we are keeping here a copy of the shuffled version for later. Note that the version of shuffle that is included in BetaML accepts several n-dimensional arrays and shuffle them (by default on rows, by we can specify the dimension) keeping the association between the various arrays in the shuffled output.

(xs,ys) = shuffle([x,y]);

Main analysis

We will try 3 BetaML models (kmeans, kmedoids and gmm) and we compare them with kmeans from Clusterings.jl and GMM from GaussianMixtures.jl Kmeans and kmedoids works by first initialising the centers of the k-clusters (the "representative" (step a ) . For kmeans they must be selected within one of the data, for kmeans they are the geometrical center) n a nutshell. Then ( b ) iterate for each point to assign the point to the cluster of the closest representative (according with a user defined distance metric, default to Euclidean), and ( c ) move each representative at the center of its newly acquired cluster (where "center" depends again from the metric). Steps ( b ) and ( c ) are reiterated until the algorithm converge, i.e. the tentative k representative points (and their relative clusters) don't move any more. The result (output of the algorithm) is that each point is assigned to one of the clusters (classes). The gmm algorithm is similar in that it employs an iterative approach (the ExpectationMinimisation algorithm, "em") but here we make the hipothesis that the data points are the observed outcomes of some _mixture probabilistic models where we have first a k-categorical variables whose outcomes are the (unobservble) parameters of a probabilistic distribution from which the data is finally drawn. Because the parameters of each of the k-possible distributions is unobservable this is also called a model with latent variables. Most gmm models use the Gaussain distribution as the family of the mixture components, so we can tought the gmm acronym to indicate Gaussian Mixture Model. In BetaML we do implemented only Gaussain components, but any distribution could be used by just subclassing AbstractMixture and implementing a couple of methids (you are invited to contribute or just ask for a distribution family you are interested), so I prefer to think "gmm" as an acronym for Generative Mixture Model. The algorithm try to find the mixture that maximises the likelihood that the data has been generated indeed from such mixture, where the "E" step refers to computing the probability that each point belongs to each of the k-composants (somehow similar to the step b in the kmeans/kmedoids algorithm), and the "M" step estimates, giving the association probabilities in step "M", the parameters of the mixture and of the individual components (similar to step c). The result here is that each point has a categorical distribution (PMF) representing the probabilities that it belongs to any of the k-components (our classes or clusters). This is interesting, as gmm can be used for many other things that clustering. It forms the backbone of the predictMissing function to impute missing values (on some or all dimensions) based to how close the record seems to its pears. For the same reasons, predictMissing can also be used to predict user's behaviours (or users' appreciation) according to the behaviour/ranking made by pears ("collaborative filtering"). While the result of gmm is a vector of PMFs (one for each record), error measures and reports with the true values (if known) can be directly applied, as in BetaML they internally call mode() to retrieve the class with the highest probability for each record.

As we are here, we also try different versions of the BetaML models, even if the default "versions" should be fine. For kmeans and kmedoids we will try different initialisation strategies ("gird", the default one, "random" and "shuffle"), while for the gmm model we'll choose different distributions of the Gaussain family (SphericalGaussian - where the variance is a scalar, DiagonalGaussian - with a vector variance, and FullGaussian, where the covariance is a matrix).

As the result would depend on stochasticity both in the data selected and in the random initialisation, we use a cross-validation approach to run our models several times (with different data) and then we average their results. Cross-Validation in BetaML is very flexible and it is done using the crossValidation function. crossValidation works by calling the function f, defined by the user, passing to it the tuple trainData, valData and rng and collecting the result of the function f. The specific method for which trainData, and valData are selected at each iteration depends on the specific sampler. We start by selectign a k-fold sampler that split our data in 5 different parts, it uses 4 for training and 1 part (not used here) for validation. We run the simulations twice and, to be sure to have replicable results, we fix the random seed (at the whole crossValidaiton level, not on each iteration).

sampler = KFold(nSplits=5,nRepeats=3,shuffle=true, rng=copy(FIXEDRNG))
KFold(5, 3, true, StableRNGs.LehmerRNG(state=0x000000000000000000000000000000f7))

We can now run the cross-validation with our models. Note that instead of defining the function f and then calling crossValidation[f(trainData,testData,rng),[x,y],...) we use the Julia do block syntax and we write directly the content of the f function in the do block. Also, by default crossValidation already returns the mean and the standard deviation of the output of the user-provided f function (or the do block). However this requires that the f function return a single scalar. Here we are returning a vector of the accuracies of the different models (so we can run the cross-validation only once), and hence we indicate with returnStatistics=false to crossValidation not to attempt to generate statistics but rather report the whole output. We'll compute the statistics ex-post.

Inside the do block we do 4 things:

  • we recover from trainData (a tuple, as we passed a tuple to crossValidation too) the xtrain features and ytrain labels;
  • we run the various clustering algorithms
  • we use the real labels to compute the model accuracy. Note that the clustering algorithm know nothing about the specific label name or even their order. This is why accuracy has the parameter ignoreLabels to compute the accuracy oven any possible permutation of the classes found.
  • we return the various models' accuracies
cOut = crossValidation([x,y],sampler,returnStatistics=false) do trainData,testData,rng
          # For unsupervised learning we use only the train data.
          # Also, we use the associated labels only to measure the performances
         (xtrain,ytrain)  = trainData;
         # We run the clustering algorithm...
         clusteringOut     = kmeans(xtrain,3,rng=rng) ## init is grid by default
         # ... and we compute the accuracy using the real labels
         kMeansAccuracy    = accuracy(clusteringOut[1],ytrain,ignoreLabels=true)
         clusteringOut     = kmeans(xtrain,3,rng=rng,initStrategy="random")
         kMeansRAccuracy   = accuracy(clusteringOut[1],ytrain,ignoreLabels=true)
         clusteringOut     = kmeans(xtrain,3,rng=rng,initStrategy="shuffle")
         kMeansSAccuracy   = accuracy(clusteringOut[1],ytrain,ignoreLabels=true)
         clusteringOut     = kmedoids(xtrain,3,rng=rng)   ## init is grid by default
         kMedoidsAccuracy  = accuracy(clusteringOut[1],ytrain,ignoreLabels=true)
         clusteringOut     = kmedoids(xtrain,3,rng=rng,initStrategy="random")
         kMedoidsRAccuracy = accuracy(clusteringOut[1],ytrain,ignoreLabels=true)
         clusteringOut     = kmedoids(xtrain,3,rng=rng,initStrategy="shuffle")
         kMedoidsSAccuracy = accuracy(clusteringOut[1],ytrain,ignoreLabels=true)
         clusteringOut     = gmm(xtrain,3,mixtures=[SphericalGaussian() for i in 1:3], verbosity=NONE, rng=rng)
         gmmSpherAccuracy  = accuracy(clusteringOut.pₙₖ,ytrain,ignoreLabels=true, rng=rng)
         clusteringOut     = gmm(xtrain,3,mixtures=[DiagonalGaussian() for i in 1:3], verbosity=NONE, rng=rng)
         gmmDiagAccuracy   = accuracy(clusteringOut.pₙₖ,ytrain,ignoreLabels=true, rng=rng)
         clusteringOut     = gmm(xtrain,3,mixtures=[FullGaussian() for i in 1:3], verbosity=NONE, rng=rng)
         gmmFullAccuracy   = accuracy(clusteringOut.pₙₖ,ytrain,ignoreLabels=true, rng=rng)
         # For comparision with Clustering.jl
         clusteringOut     = Clustering.kmeans(xtrain', 3)
         kMeans2Accuracy   = accuracy(clusteringOut.assignments,ytrain,ignoreLabels=true)
         # For comparision with GaussianMistures.jl - sometimes GaussianMistures.jl em! fails with a PosDefException
         dGMM              = GaussianMixtures.GMM(3, xtrain; method=:kmeans, kind=:diag)
         GaussianMixtures.em!(dGMM, xtrain)
         gmmDiag2Accuracy  = accuracy(GaussianMixtures.gmmposterior(dGMM, xtrain)[1],ytrain,ignoreLabels=true)
         fGMM              = GaussianMixtures.GMM(3, xtrain; method=:kmeans, kind=:full)
         GaussianMixtures.em!(fGMM, xtrain)
         gmmFull2Accuracy  = accuracy(GaussianMixtures.gmmposterior(fGMM, xtrain)[1],ytrain,ignoreLabels=true)
         # Returning the accuracies
         return kMeansAccuracy,kMeansRAccuracy,kMeansSAccuracy,kMedoidsAccuracy,kMedoidsRAccuracy,kMedoidsSAccuracy,gmmSpherAccuracy,gmmDiagAccuracy,gmmFullAccuracy,kMeans2Accuracy,gmmDiag2Accuracy,gmmFull2Accuracy

# We transform the output in matrix for easier analysis
accuracies = fill(0.0,(length(cOut),length(cOut[1])))
[accuracies[r,c] = cOut[r][c] for r in 1:length(cOut),c in 1:length(cOut[1])]
μs = mean(accuracies,dims=1)
σs = std(accuracies,dims=1)

modelLabels=["kMeansG","kMeansR","kMeansS","kMedoidsG","kMedoidsR","kMedoidsS","gmmSpher","gmmDiag","gmmFull","kMeans (Clustering.jl)","gmmDiag (GaussianMixtures.jl)","gmmFull (GaussianMixtures.jl)"]
report = DataFrame(mName = modelLabels, avgAccuracy = dropdims(round.(μs',digits=3),dims=2), stdAccuracy = dropdims(round.(σs',digits=3),dims=2))

12 rows × 3 columns

10kMeans (Clustering.jl)0.8580.11
11gmmDiag (GaussianMixtures.jl)0.8820.096
12gmmFull (GaussianMixtures.jl)0.9420.079

BetaML model accuracies

From the output We see that the gmm models perform for this dataset generally better than kmeans or kmedoids algorithms, also with very low variances. In detail, it is the (default) grid initialisation that leads to the better results for kmeans and kmedoids, while for the gmm models it is the FullGaussian to perform better.

Comparisions with Clustering.jl and GaussianMixtures.jl

For this specific case, both Clustering.jl and GaussianMixtures.jl report substantially worst accuracies, and with very high variances. But we maintain the ranking that Full Gaussian gmm > Diagonal Gaussian > Kmeans accuracy. I suspect the reason that BetaML gmm works so weel is in relation to the usage of kmeans algorithm with itself the grid initialisation. The grid initialisation "guarantee" indeed that the initial means of the mixture components are well spread across the multidimensional space defined by the data, and it helps avoiding the EM algoritm to converge to a bad local optimus.

Working without the labels

Up to now we used the real labels to compare the model accuracies. But in real clustering examples we don't have the true classes, or we wouln't need to do clustering in the first instance, so we don't know the number of classes to use. There are several methods to judge clusters algorithms goodness, perhaps the simplest one, at least for the expectation-maximisation algorithm employed in gmm to fit the data to the unknown mixture, is to use a information criteria that trade the goodness of the lickelyhood with the parameters used to do the fit. BetaML provide by default in the gmm clustering outputs both the Bayesian information criterion (BIC) and the Akaike information criterion (AIC), where for both a lower value is better.

We can then run the model with different number of classes and see which one leads to the lower BIC or AIC. We run hence crossValidation again with the FullGaussian gmm model Note that we use the BIC/AIC criteria here for establishing the "best" number of classes but we could have used it also to select the kind of Gaussain distribution to use. This is one example of hyper-parameter tuning that we developed more in detail (but without using cross-validation) in the regression tutorial.

Let's try up to 4 possible classes:

K = 4
sampler = KFold(nSplits=5,nRepeats=2,shuffle=true, rng=copy(FIXEDRNG))
cOut = crossValidation([x,y],sampler,returnStatistics=false) do trainData,testData,rng
    (xtrain,ytrain)  = trainData;
    clusteringOut  = [gmm(xtrain,k,mixtures=[FullGaussian() for i in 1:k], verbosity=NONE, rng=rng) for k in 1:K]
    BICS           = [clusteringOut[i].BIC for i in 1:K]
    AICS           = [clusteringOut[i].AIC for i in 1:K]
    return (BICS,AICS)

# Transforming the output in matrices for easier analysis
Nit = length(cOut)

BICS = fill(0.0,(Nit,K))
AICS = fill(0.0,(Nit,K))
[BICS[r,c] = cOut[r][1][c] for r in 1:Nit,c in 1:K]
[AICS[r,c] = cOut[r][2][c] for r in 1:Nit,c in 1:K]

μsBICS = mean(BICS,dims=1)
1×4 Matrix{Float64}:
 762.112  516.031  539.392  593.272
σsBICS = std(BICS,dims=1)
1×4 Matrix{Float64}:
 12.2912  15.8085  17.7181  24.6026
μsAICS = mean(AICS,dims=1)
1×4 Matrix{Float64}:
 723.087  435.194  416.743  428.81
σsAICS = std(AICS,dims=1)
1×4 Matrix{Float64}:
 12.2912  15.8085  17.7181  24.6026
plot(1:K,[μsBICS' μsAICS'], labels=["BIC" "AIC"], title="Information criteria by number of classes", xlabel="number of classes", ylabel="lower is better")

We see that following the "lowest AIC" rule we would indeed choose three classes, while following the "best AIC" criteria we would have choosen only two classes. This means that there is two classes that, concerning the floreal measures used in the database, are very similar, and opur models are unsure about them. Perhaps the biologists will end up one day with the conclusion that it is indeed only one specie :-).

We could study this issue more in detail by analysing the ConfusionMatrix, but the one used in BetaML does not account for the ignoreLabels option (yet).

Benchmarking computational efficiency

We now benchmark the time and memory required by the various models by using the @btime macro of the BenchmarkTools package:

@btime kmeans($xs,3);
# 261.540 μs (3777 allocations: 442.53 KiB)
@btime kmedoids($xs,3);
4.576 ms (97356 allocations: 10.42 MiB)
@btime gmm($xs,3,mixtures=[SphericalGaussian() for i in 1:3], verbosity=NONE);
# 5.498 ms (133365 allocations: 8.42 MiB)
@btime gmm($xs,3,mixtures=[DiagonalGaussian() for i in 1:3], verbosity=NONE);
# 18.901 ms (404333 allocations: 25.65 MiB)
@btime gmm($xs,3,mixtures=[FullGaussian() for i in 1:3], verbosity=NONE);
# 49.257 ms (351500 allocations: 61.95 MiB)
@btime Clustering.kmeans($xs', 3);
# 17.071 μs (23 allocations: 14.31 KiB)
@btime begin dGMM = GaussianMixtures.GMM(3, $xs; method=:kmeans, kind=:diag); GaussianMixtures.em!(dGMM, $xs) end;
# 530.528 μs (2088 allocations: 488.05 KiB)
@btime begin fGMM = GaussianMixtures.GMM(3, $xs; method=:kmeans, kind=:full); GaussianMixtures.em!(fGMM, $xs) end;
# 4.166 ms (58910 allocations: 3.59 MiB)

(note: the values reported here are of a local pc, not of the GitHub CI server, as sometimes - depending on data and random initialisation - GaussainMixtures.em!fails with aPosDefException`. This in turn would lead the whole documentation to fail to compile)

Like for supervised models, dedicated models are much better optimized than BetaML models, and are order of magnitude more efficient. However even the slowest BetaML clusering model (gmm using full gaussians) is realtively fast and can handle mid-size datasets (tens to hundreds of thousand records) without significant slow downs.


We have shown in this tutorial how we can easily run clustering almgorithms in BetaML with just one line of code choosenModel(x,k), but also how can we use cross-validation in order to help the model or parameter selection, with or whithout knowing the real classes. We retrieve here what we observed with supervised models. Globally the accuracy of BetaML models are comparable to those of leading specialised packages (in this case they are even better), but there is a significant gap in computational efficiency that restricts the pratical usage of BetaML to mid-size datasets. However we trade this relative inefficiency with very flexible model definition and utility functions (for example the BetaML gmm works with missing data, allowing it to be used as the backbone of the predictMissing missing imputation function, or for collaborative reccomendation systems).

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