# In-Depth: Manifold Learning

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We have seen how principal component analysis (PCA) can be used in the dimensionality reduction task—reducing the number of features of a dataset while maintaining the essential relationships between the points. While PCA is flexible, fast, and easily interpretable, it does not perform so well when there are *nonlinear*relationships within the data; we will see some examples of these below.

To address this deficiency, we can turn to a class of methods known as *manifold learning*—a class of unsupervised estimators that seeks to describe datasets as low-dimensional manifolds embedded in high-dimensional spaces. When you think of a manifold, I’d suggest imagining a sheet of paper: this is a two-dimensional object that lives in our familiar three-dimensional world, and can be bent or rolled in that two dimensions. In the parlance of manifold learning, we can think of this sheet as a two-dimensional manifold embedded in three-dimensional space.

Rotating, re-orienting, or stretching the piece of paper in three-dimensional space doesn’t change the flat geometry of the paper: such operations are akin to linear embeddings. If you bend, curl, or crumple the paper, it is still a two-dimensional manifold, but the embedding into the three-dimensional space is no longer linear. Manifold learning algorithms would seek to learn about the fundamental two-dimensional nature of the paper, even as it is contorted to fill the three-dimensional space.

Here we will demonstrate a number of manifold methods, going most deeply into a couple techniques: multidimensional scaling (MDS), locally linear embedding (LLE), and isometric mapping (IsoMap).

We begin with the standard imports:In [1]:

%matplotlibinlineimportmatplotlib.pyplotaspltimportseabornassns; sns.set()importnumpyasnp

## Manifold Learning: “HELLO”

To make these concepts more clear, let’s start by generating some two-dimensional data that we can use to define a manifold. Here is a function that will create data in the shape of the word “HELLO”:In [2]:

defmake_hello(N=1000, rseed=42):# Make a plot with "HELLO" text; save as PNGfig, ax = plt.subplots(figsize=(4, 1)) fig.subplots_adjust(left=0, right=1, bottom=0, top=1) ax.axis('off') ax.text(0.5, 0.4, 'HELLO', va='center', ha='center', weight='bold', size=85) fig.savefig('hello.png') plt.close(fig)# Open this PNG and draw random points from itfrommatplotlib.imageimportimread data = imread('hello.png')[::-1, :, 0].T rng = np.random.RandomState(rseed) X = rng.rand(4 * N, 2) i, j = (X * data.shape).astype(int).T mask = (data[i, j] < 1) X = X[mask] X[:, 0] *= (data.shape[0] / data.shape[1]) X = X[:N]returnX[np.argsort(X[:, 0])]

Let’s call the function and visualize the resulting data:In [3]:

X = make_hello(1000) colorize = dict(c=X[:, 0], cmap=plt.cm.get_cmap('rainbow', 5)) plt.scatter(X[:, 0], X[:, 1], **colorize) plt.axis('equal');

The output is two dimensional, and consists of points drawn in the shape of the word, “HELLO”. This data form will help us to see visually what these algorithms are doing.

## Multidimensional Scaling (MDS)

Looking at data like this, we can see that the particular choice of *x* and *y* values of the dataset are not the most fundamental description of the data: we can scale, shrink, or rotate the data, and the “HELLO” will still be apparent. For example, if we use a rotation matrix to rotate the data, the *x* and *y* values change, but the data is still fundamentally the same:In [4]:

defrotate(X, angle): theta = np.deg2rad(angle) R = [[np.cos(theta), np.sin(theta)], [-np.sin(theta), np.cos(theta)]]returnnp.dot(X, R) X2 = rotate(X, 20) + 5 plt.scatter(X2[:, 0], X2[:, 1], **colorize) plt.axis('equal');

This tells us that the *x* and *y* values are not necessarily fundamental to the relationships in the data. What *is* fundamental, in this case, is the *distance*between each point and the other points in the dataset. A common way to represent this is to use a distance matrix: for $N$ points, we construct an $N \times N$ array such that entry $(i, j)$ contains the distance between point $i$ and point $j$. Let’s use Scikit-Learn’s efficient `pairwise_distances`

function to do this for our original data:In [5]:

fromsklearn.metricsimportpairwise_distances D = pairwise_distances(X) D.shape

Out[5]:

(1000, 1000)

As promised, for our *N*=1,000 points, we obtain a 1000×1000 matrix, which can be visualized as shown here:In [6]:

plt.imshow(D, zorder=2, cmap='Blues', interpolation='nearest') plt.colorbar();

If we similarly construct a distance matrix for our rotated and translated data, we see that it is the same:In [7]:

D2 = pairwise_distances(X2) np.allclose(D, D2)

Out[7]:

True

This distance matrix gives us a representation of our data that is invariant to rotations and translations, but the visualization of the matrix above is not entirely intuitive. In the representation shown in this figure, we have lost any visible sign of the interesting structure in the data: the “HELLO” that we saw before.

Further, while computing this distance matrix from the (x, y) coordinates is straightforward, transforming the distances back into *x* and *y* coordinates is rather difficult. This is exactly what the multidimensional scaling algorithm aims to do: given a distance matrix between points, it recovers a $D$-dimensional coordinate representation of the data. Let’s see how it works for our distance matrix, using the `precomputed`

dissimilarity to specify that we are passing a distance matrix:In [8]:

fromsklearn.manifoldimportMDS model = MDS(n_components=2, dissimilarity='precomputed', random_state=1) out = model.fit_transform(D) plt.scatter(out[:, 0], out[:, 1], **colorize) plt.axis('equal');

The MDS algorithm recovers one of the possible two-dimensional coordinate representations of our data, using *only* the $N\times N$ distance matrix describing the relationship between the data points.

## MDS as Manifold Learning

The usefulness of this becomes more apparent when we consider the fact that distance matrices can be computed from data in *any* dimension. So, for example, instead of simply rotating the data in the two-dimensional plane, we can project it into three dimensions using the following function (essentially a three-dimensional generalization of the rotation matrix used earlier):In [9]:

defrandom_projection(X, dimension=3, rseed=42):assertdimension >= X.shape[1] rng = np.random.RandomState(rseed) C = rng.randn(dimension, dimension) e, V = np.linalg.eigh(np.dot(C, C.T))returnnp.dot(X, V[:X.shape[1]]) X3 = random_projection(X, 3) X3.shape

Out[9]:

(1000, 3)

Let’s visualize these points to see what we’re working with:In [10]:

frommpl_toolkitsimportmplot3d ax = plt.axes(projection='3d') ax.scatter3D(X3[:, 0], X3[:, 1], X3[:, 2], **colorize) ax.view_init(azim=70, elev=50)

We can now ask the `MDS`

estimator to input this three-dimensional data, compute the distance matrix, and then determine the optimal two-dimensional embedding for this distance matrix. The result recovers a representation of the original data:In [11]:

model = MDS(n_components=2, random_state=1) out3 = model.fit_transform(X3) plt.scatter(out3[:, 0], out3[:, 1], **colorize) plt.axis('equal');

This is essentially the goal of a manifold learning estimator: given high-dimensional embedded data, it seeks a low-dimensional representation of the data that preserves certain relationships within the data. In the case of MDS, the quantity preserved is the distance between every pair of points.

## Nonlinear Embeddings: Where MDS Fails

Our discussion thus far has considered *linear* embeddings, which essentially consist of rotations, translations, and scalings of data into higher-dimensional spaces. Where MDS breaks down is when the embedding is nonlinear—that is, when it goes beyond this simple set of operations. Consider the following embedding, which takes the input and contorts it into an “S” shape in three dimensions:In [12]:

defmake_hello_s_curve(X): t = (X[:, 0] - 2) * 0.75 * np.pi x = np.sin(t) y = X[:, 1] z = np.sign(t) * (np.cos(t) - 1)returnnp.vstack((x, y, z)).T XS = make_hello_s_curve(X)

This is again three-dimensional data, but we can see that the embedding is much more complicated:In [13]:

frommpl_toolkitsimportmplot3d ax = plt.axes(projection='3d') ax.scatter3D(XS[:, 0], XS[:, 1], XS[:, 2], **colorize);

The fundamental relationships between the data points are still there, but this time the data has been transformed in a nonlinear way: it has been wrapped-up into the shape of an “S.”

If we try a simple MDS algorithm on this data, it is not able to “unwrap” this nonlinear embedding, and we lose track of the fundamental relationships in the embedded manifold:In [14]:

fromsklearn.manifoldimportMDS model = MDS(n_components=2, random_state=2) outS = model.fit_transform(XS) plt.scatter(outS[:, 0], outS[:, 1], **colorize) plt.axis('equal');

The best two-dimensional *linear* embeding does not unwrap the S-curve, but instead throws out the original y-axis.

## Nonlinear Manifolds: Locally Linear Embedding

How can we move forward here? Stepping back, we can see that the source of the problem is that MDS tries to preserve distances between faraway points when constructing the embedding. But what if we instead modified the algorithm such that it only preserves distances between nearby points? The resulting embedding would be closer to what we want.

Visually, we can think of it as illustrated in this figure:

Here each faint line represents a distance that should be preserved in the embedding. On the left is a representation of the model used by MDS: it tries to preserve the distances between each pair of points in the dataset. On the right is a representation of the model used by a manifold learning algorithm called locally linear embedding (LLE): rather than preserving *all* distances, it instead tries to preserve only the distances between *neighboring points*: in this case, the nearest 100 neighbors of each point.

Thinking about the left panel, we can see why MDS fails: there is no way to flatten this data while adequately preserving the length of every line drawn between the two points. For the right panel, on the other hand, things look a bit more optimistic. We could imagine unrolling the data in a way that keeps the lengths of the lines approximately the same. This is precisely what LLE does, through a global optimization of a cost function reflecting this logic.

LLE comes in a number of flavors; here we will use the *modified LLE* algorithm to recover the embedded two-dimensional manifold. In general, modified LLE does better than other flavors of the algorithm at recovering well-defined manifolds with very little distortion:In [15]:

fromsklearn.manifoldimportLocallyLinearEmbedding model = LocallyLinearEmbedding(n_neighbors=100, n_components=2, method='modified', eigen_solver='dense') out = model.fit_transform(XS) fig, ax = plt.subplots() ax.scatter(out[:, 0], out[:, 1], **colorize) ax.set_ylim(0.15, -0.15);