Genetic Programming for Evolving Similarity Functions for Clustering: Representations and Analysis
Clustering is a difficult and widely studied data mining task, with many varieties of clustering algorithms proposed in the literature. Nearly all algorithms use a similarity measure such as a distance metric (e.g., Euclidean distance) to decide which instances to assign to the same cluster. These similarity measures are generally predefined and cannot be easily tailored to the properties of a particular dataset, which leads to limitations in the quality and the interpretability of the clusters produced. In this article, we propose a new approach to automatically evolving similarity functions for a given clustering algorithm by using genetic programming. We introduce a new genetic programming-based method which automatically selects a small subset of features (feature selection) and then combines them using a variety of functions (feature construction) to produce dynamic and flexible similarity functions that are specifically designed for a given dataset. We demonstrate how the evolved similarity functions can be used to perform clustering using a graph-based representation. The results of a variety of experiments across a range of large, high-dimensional datasets show that the proposed approach can achieve higher and more consistent performance than the benchmark methods. We further extend the proposed approach to automatically produce multiple complementary similarity functions by using a multi-tree approach, which gives further performance improvements. We also analyse the interpretability and structure of the automatically evolved similarity functions to provide insight into how and why they are superior to standard distance metrics.