# Function Approximation Algorithm In Machine Learning

WHAT IS MACHINE LEARNING

Machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence and computer science which focuses on the use of data and algorithms to imitate the way that humans learn, gradually improving its accuracy.

Machine learning is the study of computer algorithms that can improve automatically through experience and by the use of data. It is seen as a part of artificial intelligence.

It si the use and development of computer systems that are able to learn and adapt without following explicit instructions, by using algorithms and statistical models to analyse and draw inferences from patterns in data

Supervised learning in machine learning can be described in terms of function approximation.

Given a dataset comprised of inputs and outputs, we assume that there is an unknown underlying function that is consistent in mapping inputs to outputs in the target domain and resulted in the dataset. We then use supervised learning algorithms to approximate this function.

Neural networks are an example of a supervised machine learning algorithm that is perhaps best understood in the context of function approximation. This can be demonstrated with examples of neural networks approximating simple one-dimensional functions that aid in developing the intuition for what is being learned by the model.

## What Is Function Approximation

Function aproximation is a technique for estimating an unknown underlying function using historical or available observations from the domain.

Artificial neural networks learn to approximate a function.

In supervised learning, a dataset is comprised of inputs and outputs, and the supervised learning algorithm learns how to best map examples of inputs to examples of outputs.

We can think of this mapping as being governed by a mathematical function, called the mapping function, and it is this function that a supervised learning algorithm seeks to best approximate.

Neural networks are an example of a supervised learning algorithm and seek to approximate the function represented by your data. This is achieved by calculating the error between the predicted outputs and the expected outputs and minimizing this error during the training process.

It is best to think of feedforward networks as function approximation machines that are designed to achieve statistical generalization, occasionally drawing some insights from what we know about the brain, rather than as models of brain function.

The true function that maps inputs to outputs is unknown and is often referred to as the target function. It is the target of the learning process, the function we are trying to approximate using only the data that is available. If we knew the target function, we would not need to approximate it, i.e. we would not need a supervised machine learning algorithm. Therefore, function approximation is only a useful tool when the underlying target mapping function is unknown.

All we have are observations from the domain that contain examples of inputs and outputs. This implies things about the size and quality of the data; for example:

• The more examples we have, the more we might be able to figure out about the mapping function.
• The less noise we have in observations, the more crisp approximation we can make of the mapping function.

So why do we like using neural networks for function approximation?

The reason is that they are a universal approximator. In theory, they can be used to approximate any function.

… the universal approximation theorem states that a feedforward network with a linear output layer and at least one hidden layer with any “squashing” activation function (such as the logistic sigmoid activation function) can approximate any […] function from one finite-dimensional space to another with any desired non-zero amount of error, provided that the network is given enough hidden units

How do you approximate a function?

If one has the function value and n derivatives at one point, x0, then one can calculate a polynomial approximation using the Taylor expansion. f(x) ≈ f(x0)+(x−x0) ∂f(x) ∂x ||||x=xo +ООО+ (x − x0)n n!

## Definition of a Simple Function

We can define a simple function with one numerical input variable and one numerical output variable and use this as the basis for understanding neural networks for function approximation.

We can define a domain of numbers as our input, such as floating-point values from -50 to 50.

We can then select a mathematical operation to apply to the inputs to get the output values. The selected mathematical operation will be the mapping function, and because we are choosing it, we will know what it is. In practice, this is not the case and is the reason why we would use a supervised learning algorithm like a neural network to learn or discover the mapping function.

In this case, we will use the square of the input as the mapping function, defined as:

• y = x^2

Where y is the output variable and x is the input variable.

We can develop an intuition for this mapping function by enumerating the values in the range of our input variable and calculating the output value for each input and plotting the result.

The example below implements this in Python.

Running the example first creates a list of integer values across the entire input domain.

The output values are then calculated using the mapping function, then a plot is created with the input values on the x-axis and the output values on the y-axis.

Scatter Plot of Input and Output Values for the Chosen Mapping Function

The input and output variables represent our dataset.

Next, we can then pretend to forget that we know what the mapping function is and use a neural network to re-learn or re-discover the mapping function.

## Approximating a Simple Function

We can fit a neural network model on examples of inputs and outputs and see if the model can learn the mapping function.

This is a very simple mapping function, so we would expect a small neural network could learn it quickly.

We will define the network using the Keras deep learning library and use some data preparation tools from the scikit-learn library.

First, let’s define the dataset.

Next, we can reshape the data so that the input and output variables are columns with one observation per row, as is expected when using supervised learning models.

Next, we will need to scale the inputs and the outputs.

The inputs will have a range between -50 and 50, whereas the outputs will have a range between -50^2 (2500) and 0^2 (0). Large input and output values can make training neural network unstable, therefore, it is a good idea to scale data first.

We can use the Min max scaler to separately normalize the input values and the output values to values in the range between 0 and 1.

We can now define a neural network model.

With some trial and error, I chose a model with two hidden layers and 10 nodes in each layer. Perhaps experiment with other configurations to see if you can do better.

We will fit the model using a mean squared loss and use the efficient adam version of stochastic gradient descent to optimize the model.

This means the model will seek to minimize the mean squared error between the predictions made and the expected output values (y) while it tries to approximate the mapping function.

We don’t have a lot of data (e.g. about 100 rows), so we will fit the model for 500 epochs and use a small batch size of 10.

Again, these values were found after a little trial and error; try different values and see if you can do better.

Once fit, we can evaluate the model.

We will make a prediction for each example in the dataset and calculate the error. A perfect approximation would be 0.0. This is not possible in general because of noise in the observations, incomplete data, and complexity of the unknown underlying mapping function.

In this case, it is possible because we have all observations, there is no noise in the data, and the underlying function is not complex.

First, we can make the prediction.

We then must invert the scaling that we performed.

This is so the error is reported in the original units of the target variable.

We can then calculate and report the prediction error in the original units of the target variable.

Finally, we can create a scatter plot of the real mapping of inputs to outputs and compare it to the mapping of inputs to the predicted outputs and see what the approximation of the mapping function looks like spatially.

This is helpful for developing the intuition behind what neural networks are learning.

Tying this together, the complete example is listed below.

Running the example first reports the range of values for the input and output variables, then the range of the same variables after scaling. This confirms that the scaling operation was performed as we expected.

The model is then fit and evaluated on the dataset.

What is reinforcement learning how does it differs from other function approximation tasks?

Reinforcement learning differs from supervised learning in a way that in supervised learning the training data has the answer key with it so the model is trained with the correct answer itself whereas in reinforcement learning, there is no answer but the reinforcement agent decides what to do to perform the given task.