Support Vector Machines#

Support Vector Machines (SVMs) are a type of supervised learning algorithm that can be used for classification or regression problems. They are called Support Vector Machines because the algorithm creates a boundary between the classes by maximizing the margin, or the distance between the boundary and the closest data points, known as support vectors.

How do SVMs Work?#

SVMs work by mapping the input data into a high-dimensional feature space and finding the optimal hyperplane that separates the classes. The hyperplane is selected such that it maximizes the margin between the support vectors and the closest data points from each class. This is achieved by maximizing the objective function known as the primal problem, which can be formulated as a quadratic optimization problem.

One of the key strengths of SVMs is that they can handle non-linearly separable data by transforming the input data into a higher dimensional space where a linear boundary can be found. This is achieved through the use of kernel functions, which map the input data into a higher-dimensional feature space. Common kernels include linear, polynomial, radial basis function (RBF), and sigmoid kernels.

SVMs have a few hyperparameters that need to be tuned for optimal performance, including the choice of kernel function, the regularization parameter, and the value of the kernel’s parameters (such as the gamma parameter in the RBF kernel). To tune these hyperparameters, techniques such as grid search or cross-validation can be used.

There are two main variations of SVM: the linear SVM, which is used for linearly separable data, and the non-linear SVM, which uses kernel functions to handle non-linearly separable data.

Advantages of SVMs#

  1. They can handle both linear and non-linear data, making them a versatile algorithm.

  2. They are effective in high-dimensional spaces and when the number of features is much larger than the number of samples.

  3. They are relatively memory-efficient, as they only store the support vectors.

  4. They are robust to overfitting, thanks to the regularization parameter.

Disadvantages of SVMs#

  1. They are computationally expensive, particularly for large datasets.

  2. They are sensitive to the choice of kernel function and hyperparameters.

  3. They can be difficult to interpret, as the boundary between classes is represented in a high-dimensional feature space.

Example Code#

import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
from sklearn.datasets import load_breast_cancer
from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split
from sklearn.svm import SVC
from sklearn.metrics import accuracy_score

# Load the breast cancer dataset
data = load_breast_cancer()

# Split the data into training and test sets
X_train, X_test, y_train, y_test = train_test_split(,, test_size=0.2, random_state=42)

# Train the SVM classifier using a radial basis function (RBF) kernel
clf = SVC(kernel='rbf'), y_train)

# Predict the class labels of the test set
y_pred = clf.predict(X_test)

# Evaluate the performance of the classifier
acc = accuracy_score(y_test, y_pred)
print("Accuracy:", acc)


In conclusion, Support Vector Machines are a powerful and versatile machine learning algorithm that can be used for both classification and regression problems. However, they can be computationally expensive and sensitive to hyperparameters, which need to be carefully selected. When used correctly, they can provide accurate and robust results.

Where to Learn More#

We cover SVMs in-depth in the following course:

Machine Learning and AI: Support Vector Machines in Python

And we apply them in the following courses:

Time Series Analysis, Forecasting, and Machine Learning