The k-nearest neighbor algorithm (k-NN) is a method for classifying objects by a majority vote of its neighbors, with the object being assigned to the class most common amongst its k nearest neighbors (k is typically small). k-NN is a type of instance-based learning, or lazy learning where the function is only approximated locally and all computation is deferred until classification.
The simplest k-NN method takes a data set of feature vectors and labels with Euclidean distance as the similarity measure.
The best choice of k depends upon the data; generally, larger values of k reduce the effect of noise on the classification, but make boundaries between classes less distinct. A good k can be selected by various heuristic techniques, e.g. cross-validation. In binary problems, it is helpful to choose k to be an odd number as this avoids tied votes.
The nearest neighbor algorithm has some strong consistency results. As the amount of data approaches infinity, the algorithm is guaranteed to yield an error rate no worse than twice the Bayes error rate (the minimum achievable error rate given the distribution of the data). k-NN is guaranteed to approach the Bayes error rate, for some value of k (where k increases as a function of the number of data points).
The user can also provide a customized distance function.
Often, the classification accuracy of k-NN can be improved significantly if the distance metric is learned with specialized algorithms such as Large Margin Nearest Neighbor or Neighborhood Components Analysis.
Alternatively, the user may provide a k-nearest neighbor search data structure. Besides the simple linear search, Smile provides KD-Tree, Cover Tree, and LSH (Locality-Sensitive Hashing) for efficient k-nearest neighbor search.
A KD-tree (short for k-dimensional tree) is a space-partitioning dataset structure for organizing points in a k-dimensional space. Cover tree is a data structure for generic nearest neighbor search (with a metric), which is especially efficient in spaces with small intrinsic dimension. The cover tree has a theoretical bound that is based on the dataset's doubling constant. LSH is an efficient algorithm for approximate nearest neighbor search in high dimensional spaces by performing probabilistic dimension reduction of data.
Nearest neighbor rules in effect compute the decision boundary in an implicit manner. In general, the larger
k, the smoother the boundary.