Unsupervised Learning for GATE Exam

Unsupervised learning is a category of machine learning where the algorithm is trained on a dataset without explicit supervision or labeled output. In unsupervised learning, the system tries to identify patterns, relationships, and structures in the data without being told explicitly what to look for. Instead of predicting specific labels or outcomes, unsupervised learning methods aim to find inherent structures within the data, such as clusters, associations, or underlying distributions.

The primary role of unsupervised learning in machine learning is to discover hidden patterns, extract meaningful information, and gain insights from unstructured or unlabeled data. It is often used for data exploration, dimensionality reduction, data compression, feature engineering, and various tasks where the data's intrinsic structure needs to be understood.

Key Differences between Supervised and Unsupervised Learning:

a. Training Data:

  • Supervised Learning: Requires labeled training data, with input-output pairs. The algorithm learns to map inputs to corresponding outputs.
  • Unsupervised Learning: Works with unlabeled data, focusing on finding patterns or structures within the data itself.
  • Supervised Learning: Aims to predict or classify new, unseen data based on the patterns learned from labeled data.
  • Unsupervised Learning: Focuses on discovering patterns, relationships, or groupings within the data without making explicit predictions.
  • Supervised Learning: Image classification, spam email detection, sentiment analysis.
  • Unsupervised Learning: Clustering customer segments, topic modeling in text data, anomaly detection.
  • Supervised Learning: Immediate feedback on the correctness of predictions because the correct labels are known.
  • Unsupervised Learning: No immediate feedback on correctness; evaluation can be more challenging.
  • Supervised Learning: Well-suited for scenarios where the goal is to make predictions or classifications.
  • Unsupervised Learning: Useful when you want to explore and understand data, identify patterns, or preprocess data for further analysis.

Real-World Examples of Unsupervised Learning Applications:

a. Clustering in Customer Segmentation: Unsupervised learning can be used to segment customers based on their purchasing behavior, helping businesses understand their target audience better and tailor marketing strategies accordingly.

b. Topic Modeling in Text Analysis: Unsupervised learning techniques like Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) can uncover hidden topics in large text corpora. This is useful in content recommendation systems and understanding the themes in textual data.

c. Anomaly Detection in Cybersecurity: Unsupervised learning can identify unusual patterns or anomalies in network traffic data, helping to detect cybersecurity threats such as intrusions or unusual behavior.

d. Dimensionality Reduction with Principal Component Analysis (PCA): PCA is an unsupervised technique that reduces the dimensionality of data while preserving its essential structure. It's used in data visualization and noise reduction.

e. Recommendation Systems: Collaborative filtering algorithms, like Singular Value Decomposition (SVD), are often used unsupervised methods in recommendation systems to suggest products or content to users based on their past behavior and preferences.

Unsupervised learning is valuable in situations where you don't have labeled data or when you want to uncover hidden insights and patterns within your data, making it a crucial tool in the machine learning toolkit.

Clustering in Unsupervised Learning

Clustering is a fundamental unsupervised learning task that involves grouping data points into clusters or subgroups based on their similarity or proximity to each other. The primary goal of clustering is to find natural groupings within a dataset, where data points in the same cluster are more similar to each other than to those in other clusters. Clustering is valuable for data exploration, pattern recognition, and gaining insights into the underlying structure of data.

Types of Clustering:

  1. Hierarchical Clustering:
    • In hierarchical clustering, data points are organized into a tree-like structure (dendrogram) of clusters.
    • Two main approaches: Agglomerative (bottom-up) and Divisive (top-down).
    • Agglomerative starts with individual data points as clusters and progressively merges them, while divisive starts with one large cluster and recursively splits it.
    • It provides a hierarchy of clusters, allowing users to choose the desired level of granularity.
  2. Partitioning Clustering:
    • Partitioning clustering aims to divide data into non-overlapping clusters.
    • Popular method: K-Means clustering, where the data is divided into 'K' clusters, and each data point belongs to the nearest cluster center.
    • K-Means minimizes the sum of squared distances within clusters.
    • Other methods include K-Medoids (PAM) and Fuzzy C-Means.
  3. Density-Based Clustering:
    • Density-based clustering identifies clusters as regions of high data point density separated by areas of lower density.
    • DBSCAN (Density-Based Spatial Clustering of Applications with Noise) is a well-known method in this category.
    • It can find clusters of arbitrary shapes and is robust to noise.
  4. Model-Based Clustering:
    • Model-based clustering assumes that the data is generated from a probabilistic model.
    • Gaussian Mixture Models (GMM) is a common model-based clustering method.
    • GMM assumes that data points are generated from a mixture of Gaussian distributions and estimates the parameters of these distributions to find clusters.

Evaluation Metrics:

Evaluating the quality of clustering results can be subjective, but several metrics help assess clustering performance:

  • Silhouette Score: Measures the distance between clusters and the distance between data points within the same cluster. Higher values indicate better separation.
  • Davies-Bouldin Index: Measures the average similarity between each cluster and its most similar cluster. Lower values indicate better clustering.
  • Calinski-Harabasz Index (Variance Ratio Criterion): Evaluates the ratio of between-cluster variance to within-cluster variance. Higher values indicate better clustering.
  • Inertia (K-Means): Measures the sum of squared distances of data points to their assigned cluster centers. Lower inertia indicates better clustering.
  • Adjusted Rand Index (ARI) and Normalized Mutual Information (NMI): These metrics measure the similarity between true labels (if available) and cluster assignments. Higher values indicate better clustering alignment with ground truth.

The choice of evaluation metric depends on the specific problem and the availability of ground truth labels for comparison.

K-Means Clustering

K-Means is one of the most commonly used clustering algorithms, widely employed for partitioning a dataset into K distinct, non-overlapping clusters. It is an iterative algorithm that works by optimizing cluster assignments to minimize the sum of squared distances within each cluster. Here's an overview of how K-Means works:

1. Initialization:

  • Choose the number of clusters, K, that you want to partition the data into.
  • Initialize K cluster centroids randomly by selecting K data points from the dataset as initial centroids.

2. Assignment:

  • For each data point in the dataset, calculate its distance (typically using Euclidean distance) to all K centroids.
  • Assign the data point to the cluster whose centroid is the closest (i.e., has the minimum distance).

3. Update:

  • Recalculate the centroids of each cluster by taking the mean of all data points assigned to that cluster.
  • These new centroids represent the center of each cluster.

4. Repeat:

  • Steps 2 and 3 are repeated iteratively until one of the stopping conditions is met:
    • No change in cluster assignments (convergence).
    • A maximum number of iterations is reached.
    • A predefined threshold for centroid movement is met.

Concept of Centroids:

  • Centroids are the center points of clusters in K-Means.
  • Each centroid represents the mean position of all the data points assigned to its cluster.
  • The goal of K-Means is to find centroids in such a way that the sum of squared distances from each data point to its assigned centroid (intra-cluster variance) is minimized.

How K-Means Optimizes Cluster Assignments:

K-Means optimizes cluster assignments by iteratively minimizing the sum of squared distances within each cluster. Here's how it works:

  1. Initialization: Initially, the centroids are placed randomly.
  2. Assignment: Data points are assigned to the nearest centroid based on their distance.
  3. Update: The centroids are recalculated as the mean of all data points assigned to each cluster.
  4. Repeat: Steps 2 and 3 are repeated until convergence, which occurs when the centroids no longer change significantly or when a predefined stopping criterion is met.

This iterative process optimizes the cluster assignments because, with each iteration, the centroids move to better represent the center of their respective clusters. As a result, the data points get assigned to clusters that minimize the distance from their centroids, which leads to compact and well-separated clusters.

Practical Examples and Insights:

  1. Customer Segmentation: In retail, K-Means can be used to segment customers based on their purchasing behavior. For instance, it can help identify high-value customers, occasional shoppers, and other customer segments, allowing tailored marketing strategies for each group.
  2. Image Compression: In image processing, K-Means can be used to reduce the number of colors in an image while preserving its visual quality. By clustering similar pixel colors together, you can achieve significant compression with minimal loss of image quality.
  3. Anomaly Detection: K-Means can be applied to identify anomalies or outliers in data by considering data points that are far from any cluster centroid as anomalies. This is useful in fraud detection, network security, and quality control.
  4. Text Document Clustering: K-Means can group similar text documents together based on their content. This is valuable in information retrieval, content organization, and topic modeling.
  5. Geographic Data Analysis: In geographic information systems (GIS), K-Means can be used to cluster spatial data points, such as geographical locations, to identify regions with similar characteristics.
  6. Recommendation Systems: K-Means can be applied to cluster users or items based on their preferences and behaviors, facilitating personalized recommendations in e-commerce or content recommendation systems.

When using K-Means, it's essential to choose an appropriate value of K (the number of clusters) and be aware of its sensitivity to initial centroid placement. It's common to run K-Means with different initializations and select the best result based on evaluation metrics or domain knowledge.

Hierarchical Clustering

Hierarchical clustering is an unsupervised clustering technique that organizes data points into a tree-like structure, known as a dendrogram, to represent the hierarchy of clusters. Unlike other clustering methods, hierarchical clustering doesn't require specifying the number of clusters beforehand. Instead, it starts with each data point as its cluster and then iteratively merges or splits clusters until a hierarchy is formed. This hierarchy allows users to explore data at different levels of granularity.

Linkage Methods in Hierarchical Clustering:

Linkage methods determine how clusters are merged or split at each step of the hierarchical clustering process. There are several linkage methods, but three of the most common ones are:

  1. Single Linkage (Minimum Linkage):
    • Single linkage measures the similarity between two clusters as the shortest distance between any data points in the two clusters.
    • It tends to create long, chain-like clusters and is sensitive to noise.
  2. Complete Linkage (Maximum Linkage):
    • Complete linkage measures the similarity between two clusters as the longest distance between any data points in the two clusters.
    • It tends to create compact, spherical clusters and is less sensitive to noise than single linkage.
  3. Average Linkage:
    • Average linkage computes the similarity between two clusters as the average distance between all pairs of data points in the two clusters.
    • It strikes a balance between single and complete linkage and is less sensitive to outliers.

Advantages of Hierarchical Clustering:

  1. Hierarchy Exploration: Hierarchical clustering provides a hierarchy of clusters, allowing users to explore data at different levels of granularity. This flexibility is valuable for understanding complex data structures.
  2. No Need for Predefined Clusters: Hierarchical clustering doesn't require specifying the number of clusters beforehand, making it suitable for situations where the optimal number of clusters is unknown.
  3. Visualization: The dendrogram visualization of hierarchical clustering can help in the interpretation of data relationships and hierarchical structures.
  4. Robust to Noise: Complete linkage, in particular, is known for its ability to create compact clusters and is relatively robust to outliers and noise.

Limitations of Hierarchical Clustering:

  1. Computational Complexity: Hierarchical clustering can be computationally expensive, especially for large datasets, as it requires pairwise distance computations and maintaining a dendrogram.
  2. Sensitivity to Noise: Single linkage can be sensitive to noise and may produce long, string-like clusters when outliers are present.
  3. Difficulty in Determining K: While hierarchical clustering doesn't require specifying K in advance, it can be challenging to choose the appropriate number of clusters from the hierarchy, especially in large datasets.
  4. Noisy Hierarchies: In some cases, the hierarchy created by hierarchical clustering may not accurately reflect the true underlying structure of the data, especially when inappropriate linkage methods are used.
  5. Scalability Issues: Hierarchical clustering may not be suitable for very large datasets due to its computational demands.

In summary, hierarchical clustering is a versatile technique that offers a hierarchical view of data relationships, making it useful for exploratory data analysis and visualization. However, its computational complexity and sensitivity to noise can be limitations, and the choice of linkage method can significantly impact the results. Researchers and practitioners should carefully consider their data and objectives when deciding whether to use hierarchical clustering and which linkage method to apply.

Dimensionality Reduction

Dimensionality reduction is a process in data analysis and machine learning that aims to reduce the number of features (or dimensions) in a dataset while preserving as much valuable information as possible. In simpler terms, it's about simplifying data by eliminating redundant, irrelevant, or noisy features while retaining the essential characteristics of the data. Dimensionality reduction is crucial for various reasons:

Importance of Dimensionality Reduction:

  1. Curse of Dimensionality: As the number of features or dimensions in a dataset increases, the amount of data required to generalize accurately grows exponentially. High-dimensional data often suffers from sparsity and computational inefficiency, which can lead to overfitting in machine learning models.
  2. Visualization: High-dimensional data is challenging to visualize, making it difficult to gain insights or detect patterns. Dimensionality reduction can project data into lower-dimensional spaces that are easier to visualize.
  3. Computational Efficiency: Reducing dimensionality can significantly speed up data processing, model training, and inference, making it more feasible to work with large datasets.
  4. Noise Reduction: By eliminating irrelevant or noisy features, dimensionality reduction can improve the signal-to-noise ratio in the data, leading to better model performance.

Scenarios Where Dimensionality Reduction is Necessary:

Dimensionality reduction is necessary in various scenarios:

  1. High-Dimensional Data: When working with datasets that have a large number of features relative to the number of samples, which is common in genomics, text analysis, and some image processing tasks.
  2. Noise Reduction: When the data contains noisy or irrelevant features that can degrade the performance of machine learning models.
  3. Visualization: When you need to visualize data in two or three dimensions to understand its structure or communicate results effectively.
  4. Model Efficiency: When you want to speed up the training and testing of machine learning models and reduce memory requirements.

Two Main Approaches to Dimensionality Reduction:

There are two primary approaches to dimensionality reduction:

  1. Feature Selection:
    • Feature selection involves choosing a subset of the original features while discarding the rest.
    • The selected features are considered the most informative or relevant for the task at hand.
    • Common techniques include filter methods (e.g., correlation-based feature selection), wrapper methods (e.g., recursive feature elimination), and embedded methods (e.g., L1 regularization).
  2. Feature Extraction:
    • Feature extraction creates new features (often referred to as "latent" or "transformed" features) that capture the essential information in the original dataset.
    • These new features are typically a linear combination of the original features.
    • Principal Component Analysis (PCA) and Linear Discriminant Analysis (LDA) are popular feature extraction techniques.
    • Non-linear methods like t-Distributed Stochastic Neighbor Embedding (t-SNE) and autoencoders can also be used for feature extraction.

The choice between feature selection and feature extraction depends on the specific problem, the nature of the data, and the goals of the analysis. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, and the selection of the most suitable method should be guided by the particular characteristics of the dataset and the requirements of the task.

Principal Component Analysis (PCA)

Principal Component Analysis (PCA) is a widely used dimensionality reduction technique in data analysis and machine learning. It is primarily employed as a feature extraction method, aiming to reduce the dimensionality of a dataset while preserving as much of its original information as possible. PCA does this by transforming the data into a new set of orthogonal variables called principal components, which capture the most significant sources of variation in the data.

Mathematical Foundation of PCA and the Covariance Matrix:

PCA is based on linear algebra and statistical concepts, with its foundation rooted in the covariance matrix:

  • Covariance: In statistics, the covariance between two variables measures how they vary together. It indicates whether one variable tends to increase as the other increases (positive covariance), decrease as the other increases (negative covariance), or not show a clear relationship (low covariance).
  • Covariance Matrix: In multivariate data, the covariance between each pair of variables can be represented in a covariance matrix. This matrix summarizes how the variables in the dataset relate to each other.

Steps Involved in PCA:

  1. Data Standardization:
    • PCA assumes that the data is centered (i.e., has a mean of zero) and has unit variance. Therefore, the first step is to standardize the data by subtracting the mean and dividing by the standard deviation of each feature.
  2. Covariance Matrix Calculation:
    • Once the data is standardized, the covariance matrix is computed. The covariance between feature i and feature j is given by:
      Screenshot 2023-10-26 at 4.36.45 PM.png
  • Here, (n) is the number of data points, Xi and Xj are the standardized feature vectors, and Screenshot 2023-10-26 at 4.40.28 PM.pngare the means of the standardized features.
  1. Eigen Decomposition:
    • The next step is to find the eigenvalues and eigenvectors of the covariance matrix. These represent the directions and magnitudes of maximum variance in the data.
    • The eigenvalues indicate the variance explained by each principal component, and the corresponding eigenvectors represent the direction of these components.
  2. Feature Selection:
    • The final step involves selecting a subset of the principal components based on the explained variance. You can choose to retain a certain percentage of the total variance (e.g., 95%) or a specific number of principal components.

PCA Reduces Dimensionality While Preserving Data Variance:

PCA reduces dimensionality by projecting the data onto a new set of orthogonal axes (the principal components) in such a way that the first principal component captures the most variance in the data, the second captures the second most variance, and so on. By selecting a subset of these principal components, you can achieve dimensionality reduction while preserving the maximum possible amount of variance.

The advantage of PCA is that it helps remove noise and redundancy from the data while retaining the essential structure and patterns. The retained variance in the selected principal components provides a quantitative measure of how much information is preserved after dimensionality reduction. This is why PCA is often used as a preprocessing step to reduce the dimensionality of high-dimensional data while maintaining as much useful information as possible for subsequent analysis or modeling tasks.


Unsupervised learning is a fundamental and versatile branch of machine learning that plays a vital role in understanding and extracting insights from data without explicit labels or supervision. Through various techniques, it allows us to uncover hidden patterns, structures, and relationships within datasets. In this lesson, we've explored the key concepts and methods in unsupervised learning.

Key Takeaways:

  • Unsupervised learning doesn't rely on labeled data but seeks to uncover inherent patterns or structures within datasets.
  • It serves purposes such as data exploration, dimensionality reduction, clustering, and anomaly detection.
  • Clustering is a common unsupervised learning task, involving the grouping of data points into clusters based on similarity.
  • Hierarchical, partitioning, density-based, and model-based are different types of clustering methods.
  • Dimensionality reduction, a crucial unsupervised learning task, reduces the number of features while preserving data characteristics.
  • Feature selection and feature extraction are two main approaches for dimensionality reduction.
  • Principal Component Analysis (PCA) is a popular feature extraction technique that reduces dimensionality by finding orthogonal axes capturing maximum variance.
  • PCA involves steps like data standardization, covariance matrix calculation, eigen decomposition, and feature selection.
  • PCA reduces dimensionality while preserving data variance, making it valuable for data visualization and simplification.
  • Dimensionality reduction is important for overcoming the curse of dimensionality, improving model efficiency, and enhancing data understanding.

Practice Questions

1. Which linkage method in hierarchical clustering measures the similarity between two clusters as the shortest distance between any data points in the two clusters?

a. Complete Linkage. 

b. Single Linkage. 

c. Average Linkage. 

d. Model-Based Linkage.


b. Single Linkage.

2. What is the main advantage of hierarchical clustering?

a. It doesn't require specifying the number of clusters beforehand. 

b. It is computationally efficient for large datasets. 

c. It is robust to outliers. 

d. It creates compact, spherical clusters.


a. It doesn't require specifying the number of clusters beforehand.

3. Which step in the K-Means algorithm involves recalculating the centroids of clusters?

a. Initialization. 

b. Assignment. 

c. Update. 

d. Repeat.


c. Update.

4. What is one key difference between supervised and unsupervised learning?

a. Supervised learning aims to discover hidden patterns. 

b. Unsupervised learning requires labeled training data. 

c. Supervised learning doesn't provide immediate feedback. 

d. Unsupervised learning focuses on making explicit predictions.


b. Unsupervised learning requires labeled training data.

5. Which evaluation metric measures the ratio of between-cluster variance to within-cluster variance?

a. Silhouette Score. 

b. Davies-Bouldin Index. 

c. Calinski-Harabasz Index. 

d. Inertia (K-Means).


c. Calinski-Harabasz Index.

Module 5: Machine LearningUnsupervised Learning for GATE Exam

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