Ensembles in Machine Learning

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Ensemble methods are well established as an algorithmic cornerstone in machine learning (ML). Just as in real life, in ML a committee of experts will often perform better than an individual provided appropriate care is taken in constituting the committee. Since the earliest days of ML research, a variety of ensemble strategies have been developed with random forests and gradient boosting emerging as leading-edge methods in classification today. It has been recognised since the early days of ML research that ensembles of classifiers can be more accurate than individual models. In ML, ensembles are effectively committees that aggregate the predictions of individual classifiers. They are effective for very much the same reasons a committee of experts works in human decision making, they can bring different expertise to bear and the averaging effect can reduce errors. This article presents a tutorial on the main ensemble methods in use in ML with links to Python notebooks and datasets illustrating these methods in action. The objective is to help practitioners get started with ML ensembles and to provide an insight into when and why ensembles are effective. There have been a lot of developments since then and the ensemble idea is still to the forefront in ML applications. For example, random forests [2] and gradient boosting [7] would be considered among the most powerful methods available to ML practitioners today. The generic ensemble idea is presented in Figure 1. All ensembles are made up of a collection of base classifiers, also known as members or estimators.

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