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In k-means clustering, we are given a set of n data points in d-dimensional space and an integer k and the problem is to determine a set of k points in Rd, called centres, so as to minimize the mean squared distance from each data point to its nearest centre. A popular heuristic for k-means clustering is Lloyd’s (1982) algorithm. We present a simple and efficient implementation of Lloyd’s k-means clustering algorithm, which we call the filtering algorithm. This algorithm is easy to implement, requiring a kd-tree as the only major data structure. We establish the practical efficiency of the filtering algorithm in two ways. First, we present a data-sensitive analysis of the algorithm’s running time, which shows that the algorithm runs faster as the separation between clusters increases. Second, we present a number of empirical studies both on synthetically generated data and on real data sets from applications in colour quantization, data compression, and image segmentation.



K-means clustering is a type of unsupervised learning, which is used when you have unlabelled data (i.e., data without defined categories or groups). The goal of this algorithm is to find groups in the data, with the number of groups represented by the variable K. The algorithm works iteratively to assign each data point to one of K groups based on the features that are provided. Data points are clustered based on feature similarity. The results of the K-means clustering algorithm are:

  1. The centroids of the K clusters, which can be used to label new data
  2. Labels for the training data (each data point is assigned to a single cluster)

Rather than defining groups before looking at the data, clustering allows you to find and analyse the groups that have formed organically. The “Choosing K” section below describes how the number of groups can be determined.



Commonly used initialization methods are Forgy and Random Partition.[9] The Forgy method randomly chooses k observations from the dataset and uses these as the initial means. The Random Partition method first randomly assigns a cluster to each observation and then proceeds to the update step, thus computing the initial mean to be the centroid of the cluster’s randomly assigned points. The Forgy method tends to spread the initial means out, while Random Partition places all of them close to the centre of the data set. According to Hamerly et al.,[9] the Random Partition method is generally preferable for algorithms such as the k-harmonic means and fuzzy k-means. For expectation maximization and standard k-means algorithms, the Forgy method of initialization is preferable. A comprehensive study by Celebi et al.,[10] however, found that popular initialization methods such as Forgy, Random Partition, and Maximin often perform poorly, whereas Bradley and Fayyad’s approach[11] performs “consistently” in “the best group” and k-means++ performs “generally well”.

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