Random Projection

Random projection is a tool for representing high-dimensional data in a low-dimensional feature space, typically for data visualization or methods that rely on fast computation of pairwise distances, like nearest neighbors searching and nonparametric clustering.


Dimension reduction is a very useful preprocessing step for several tasks:

  1. Data visualization. For data with more than three features (four or five if we're really clever, e.g. Gapminder), it's impossible to plot in the original feature space. Dimension reduction gives us a two-dimension representation of the data that can be easily plotted.

  2. Analyzing high-dimensional data. The curse of dimensionality makes it difficult to tell when high-dimensional data points are similar to each other or not. This is a particularly acute problem for nearest neighbors search and nonparametric clustering, where random projection is often a standard preprocessing step.

  3. Storing and moving large datasets. Dimension reduction allows us to reduce the size of datasets without discarding any data points, as we would have to do with other techniques like vector quantization or locality-sensitive hashing.

GraphLab Create's RandomProjection tool uses Gaussian random projection. Let's say we have a numeric dataset with examples, each of which is represented by features (where is presumably relatively large, maybe on the order of hundreds or thousands). In other words, our data is a matrix , with rows and columns. Suppose we want to reduce the dimensionality of our data so that each example is represented by only features, where is small, like 2 or 10.

For Gaussian random projection we construct a projection matrix with rows and columns. Each entry is independently sampled from a standard Gaussian distribution

The projection is done by multiplying our data matrix by the projection matrix:

so that our output dataset has rows with only columns. The scalar ensures that the Euclidean distance between any two points in the new low-dimensional space is very close to the distance between the same points in the original high-dimensional space, with high probability.


To illustrate usage of the similarity search toolkit, we use a small subset of the MNIST handwritten digits image dataset, which can be downloaded from the public Turi datasets bucket on Amazon S3. The download is about 1.5 MB.

import graphlab as gl
import os

if os.path.exists('mnist_train6k'):
    mnist = gl.SFrame('mnist_train6k')
    mnist = gl.SFrame('https://static.turi.com/datasets/mnist/sframe/train6k')

The first preprocessing step is to convert the image data to an array of floats. Each array has 784 entries.

import array
mnist['array'] = mnist['image'].astype(array.array)

print "Number of features:", len(mnist['array'][0])
| label |        image         |             array             |
|   5   | Height: 28 Width: 28 | [0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, ... |
|   8   | Height: 28 Width: 28 | [0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, ... |
|   1   | Height: 28 Width: 28 | [0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, ... |
|   4   | Height: 28 Width: 28 | [0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, ... |
|   2   | Height: 28 Width: 28 | [0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, ... |
[6000 rows x 3 columns]

Number of features: 784

With 784 features, this dataset is impossible to plot. A naive thing to try is to pick two features arbitrarily to plot, but even when we limit the plot to just two of the 10 classes, the result is useless. We cannot distinguish the distributions visually.

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

mnist_temp = mnist.unpack('array', column_name_prefix='x')
mnist_temp = mnist_temp.filter_by([0, 1], 'label')

fig, ax = plt.subplots()
ax.scatter(mnist_temp['x.15'], mnist_temp['x.130'], c=mnist_temp['label'],
           s=50, alpha=0.6)
ax.set_xlabel('x.15'); ax.set_ylabel('x.130')


On the other hand, if we use a Gaussian random projection of the data into 2-dimensional space, we can see the classes much more clearly. Note that we do not need to unpack the input data manually; the RandomProjection transformer takes care of that for us. The data returned by the RandomProjection transformer is also packed into a single column of array type. To access each entry separately, this column needs to be unpacked.

from graphlab.toolkits.feature_engineering import RandomProjection

rp = RandomProjection(features=['array'], embedding_dimension=2,

mnist_embedded = rp.fit_transform(mnist)
mnist_embedded = mnist_embedded.unpack('embedded_features',
mnist_embedded = mnist_embedded.filter_by([0, 1], 'label')

fig, ax = plt.subplots()
ax.scatter(mnist_embedded['y.0'], mnist_embedded['y.1'], c=mnist_embedded['label'], 
           s=50, alpha=0.6)
ax.set_xlabel('y.0'); ax.set_ylabel('y.1')


The summary method of a fitted RandomProjection object is useful for understanding how many features the transformer expects to receive for calls to transform, as well as the random seed for construction of the projection matrix. Two RandomProjection instances with the same random seed yield the same output point for the same input data.

Class                         : RandomProjection

Model fields
Embedding dimension           : 2
Original dimension            : 784
Features                      : ['array']
Excluded features             : None
Output column name            : embedded_features
Random seed                   : 19
Has been fitted               : 1