K-Nearest Neighbors

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The -nearest neighbor (k-NN) algorithm can be utilized for both classification and regression. It is commonly used when there is little or no prior knowledge about the distribution of the data. In other words, the advantage of -nearest neighbors is that it enables discriminant analysis when reliable parametric estimates of probability densities are unknown. Note that -nearest neighbor is a local and non-parametric method where the parameter controls the size of locality.

In order to perform -nearest neighbors, a suitable must be chosen along with a distance measurement that is acceptable for the type of predictor data. Specifically, if the predictors are numerical, a Euclidean distance (such as the , or norms) can be used. If the data are categorical, some options are the Hamming distance and the Value Difference Measure (VDM). In practice, the choice of is usually determined by use of -fold cross-validation. [1]

K-nn Algorithm

Consider a matrix of training predictors with an associated response vector Note that may be either a vector of classes (i.e. categorical responses) or a vector of numerical values. The former case is known as -nearest neighbors classification, while the latter is known as -nearest neighbor regression. Next, consider a matrix of test predictors for which we would like to predict the response. Denote as

The -nearest neighbors algorithm is as follows:

Step 1: Choose

Step 2: For each measure the distance to the -nearest 's. In other words measure the distance from each observation in to the -nearest observations in .

Step 3: For classification (i.e. if is a categorical vector of responses), predict the response for as the class (i.e. category) that occurs the greatest number of times among the nearest . For regression (i.e. if is a real valued vector of responses), predict the response for as the average of the responses among the nearest .


The -NN algorithm does not learn anything from the training data and simply uses the training data itself for classification. To predict the label of a new instance the -NN algorithm will find the closest neighbors to the new instance from the training data, the predicted class label will then be set as the most common label among the closest neighboring points. This disadvantage can result in the algorithm not generalizing well and also not being robust to noisy data. Additionally, The estimation of can be problematic. For example, suppose -fold cross validation reveals the presence of two minimums. This leads to the issue of deciding which minimum is optimal. [1]


1951 : Fix and Hodges introduced a non-parametric method for pattern classification that has since become known the k-nearest neighbor rule

1967 : Cover and Hart showed that some of the formal properties of the -nearest neighbor rule were worked out. [2]

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  1. 1.0 1.1 Ghosh, Anil K. "On optimum choice of k in nearest neighbor classification." Computational Statistics & Data Analysis 50.11 (2006): 3113-3123.
  2. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/articleDetails.jsp?arnumber=1053964

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