Nearest Neighbors Readme


In the last couple of lessons, we talked about understanding our data by a discussion about graphing data and a metric for calculating distance between points. Now we can move onto training a machine learning algorithm and using it to make predictions with data. We'll do so with the nearest neighbors algorithm that we explored in the previous lab.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand how to use the Pythagorean Theorem to build a nearest neighbors function

Explore the data (again)

Once again, here were the locations of Bob and our customers:

Name Avenue # Block #
Bob 4 8
Suzie 1 11
Fred 5 8
Edgar 6 13
Steven 3 6
Natalie 5 4

And we represent these individuals in Python with the following:

neighbors = [{'name': 'Bob', 'x': 4, 'y': 8}, {'name': 'Suzie', 'x': 1, 'y': 11}, 
             {'name': 'Fred', 'x': 5, 'y': 8}, {'name': 'Edgar', 'x': 6, 'y': 13},
             {'name': 'Steven', 'x': 3, 'y': 6}, {'name': 'Natalie', 'x': 5, 'y': 4}]
bob = neighbors[0]
suzie = neighbors[1]

Write the algorithm

To write a nearest_neighbors function, we break this into steps:

  1. Write a function to calculate the distance of one neighbor from another
  2. Write a function that returns the distance between one neighbor and all others (using map)
  3. Return a selected number of nearest neighbors

Calculating the distance of one neighbor from another

First, we write a function that calculates the distance between one individual and another. This function is a translation of our Pythagorean Theorem, which says that given a first individual with coordinates $(x_{1}, y_{1})$, and a second individual with coordinates $(x_{2}, y_{2})$, then $distance = \sqrt{(x_{2} - x_{1})^2 + (y_{2} - y_{1})^2}$.

import math

def distance(selected_individual, neighbor):
   distance_squared = (neighbor['x'] - selected_individual['x'])**2 + (neighbor['y'] - selected_individual['y'])**2
   return math.sqrt(distance_squared)
def distance_between_neighbors(selected_individual, neighbor):
    neighbor_with_distance = neighbor.copy()
    neighbor_with_distance['distance'] = distance(selected_individual, neighbor)
    return neighbor_with_distance
distance_between_neighbors(bob, suzie)

The distance_between_neighbors function makes a copy of the neighbor object and then adds a new attribute called distance using the previous distance function. So now we have associated a neighbor with his/her distance from a given point.

Creating a list of neighbors with distances

Next, we write a distance_all function to calculate the distance between a selected_individual, and all of the other neighbors. We do this by calling our distance_between_neighbors function with the selected_individual and each of the rest of the neighbors.

In the distance_all function, we first filter out the selected_individual as we don't want to return the selected individual as a neighbor. Then we calculate the distance between the selected_individual and the rest of the individuals. Finally, for each of the remaining neighbors, we use our distance_between_neighbors method to add in a distance attribute to each of the neighbors.

def distance_all(selected_individual, neighbors):
    remaining_neighbors = filter(lambda neighbor: neighbor != selected_individual, neighbors)
    return list(map(lambda neighbor: distance_between_neighbors(selected_individual, neighbor), remaining_neighbors))

Return selected number of nearest neighbors

Finally, we write our nearest_neighbors function. The function takes an optional argument of number, which represents the number of "nearest" neighbors to return. When set to None, number is reassigned to equal the length of the neighbors list. The nearest_neighbors function finishes by sorting the the "neighbors" by their distance and then slicing the list to return the correct number of neighbors.

def nearest_neighbors(selected_individual, neighbors, number = None):
    number = number or len(neighbors)
    neighbor_distances = distance_all(selected_individual, neighbors)
    sorted_neighbors = sorted(neighbor_distances, key=lambda neighbor: neighbor['distance'])
    return sorted_neighbors[:number]
nearest_neighbors(bob, neighbors)
nearest_neighbors(bob, neighbors, 2)

Python's sorted method lets us sort a list of dictionaries by a certain value. We do so by telling the sorted method to compare the values specified in the lambda function, in this case neighbor['distance'].

We have seen how to access elements from a list by explicitly providing the starting element and stopping element in the following manner: sorted_neighbors[0:number]. Above, we implicitly select the first number of elements from our list by leaving out the starting element.


In this lesson, we reviewed the nearest neighbors function and saw how it derives from calculating the distance using the Pythagorean Theorem to then sorting neighbors by that interest.

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