Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Unsupervised Learning

Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Unsupervised Learning

Here's Everything You Need To Know About Unsupervised Learning

In ML, unsupervised learning algorithms analyse and discover hidden patterns or structures within unlabelled data.

What Is Unsupervised Learning?

Unsupervised learning is a form of machine learning where algorithms analyse and discover hidden patterns or structures within unlabelled data, meaning the data doesn’t have any pre-defined categories or labels attached to it.

What Are The Three Types Of Unsupervised Learning Methods?

While unsupervised learning encompasses a diverse range of algorithms and techniques, there are three main types of tasks it frequently tackles:

  • Clustering: This is the most common type, where the algorithm groups similar data points together based on their inherent characteristics. Imagine sorting a collection of seashells based on size, colour or texture – that’s essentially what clustering does. There are various clustering techniques, each with its strengths and weaknesses like k-means, hierarchical and density-based clustering.
  • Dimensionality Reduction: This aims to simplify complex data by reducing the number of features without losing significant information. Think of it like compressing an image while maintaining its key details. This is useful for tasks like visualisation, anomaly detection, and speeding up other machine learning algorithms.  
  • Association Rule Mining: This identifies relationships and dependencies between different features in the data. It’s like finding co-occurring items in a grocery store basket – milk and cereal often appear together. This information can be used for tasks like market basket analysis, recommendation systems, and fraud detection. Some popular association rule mining algorithms include Apriori and FP-growth.

How Is It Used In Machine Learning?

Unsupervised learning plays a crucial role in machine learning in several ways:

  • Exploratory Data Analysis:
    • Unveiling hidden patterns and trends: By analysing unlabelled data, it can reveal hidden structures and relationships that might be missed by human analysts. This helps gain insights into the data’s underlying characteristics and identify potential research directions.
    • Data visualisation: Dimensionality reduction techniques like PCA can compress high-dimensional data into lower dimensions, making it easier to visualise and understand complex relationships.
    • Data cleaning and preprocessing: Unsupervised learning can be used to identify and remove outliers or inconsistencies in data, improving its quality for further analysis.
  • Feature Engineering: Unsupervised learning algorithms can automatically extract informative features from data, which can then be used for supervised learning tasks like classification or regression. This can be particularly helpful when dealing with complex, unstructured data.
  • Anomaly Detection: Unsupervised learning can be used to establish a baseline for ‘normal’ behaviour in data. Deviations from this baseline can then be flagged as potential anomalies, indicating fraudulent activity, equipment failure, or other unexpected events.
  • Recommendation Systems: By analysing user interactions with a system, unsupervised learning can identify groups of users with similar preferences. This information can be used to recommend products, content, or services that are likely to be of interest to each user group.
  • Image & Text Processing: Unsupervised learning can be used to cluster images based on visual features or group text documents based on topics or themes. This can help organise large image and text collections and enable efficient search and retrieval.
  • Generative Models: Some unsupervised learning algorithms can be used to generate new data that shares similar characteristics with the training data. This can be useful for tasks like creating realistic images, composing music, or generating text that adheres to a specific style.

What Are The Advantages & Disadvantages Of Unsupervised Learning?


  • No Labelled Data Required: This is a major benefit, especially when dealing with large amounts of data where labelling would be expensive or time-consuming. By not relying on labels, unsupervised learning allows you to explore and potentially uncover valuable insights that might be overlooked otherwise.
  • Discovery Of Hidden Patterns: The ability to find hidden patterns and relationships in data is unique to unsupervised learning. This can lead to a new understanding of the data and identify previously unknown trends or features, potentially opening up new research avenues.
  • Data Summarisation & Visualisation: By grouping similar data points or reducing dimensionality, unsupervised learning helps make complex data more digestible and easier to visualise. This allows for better comprehension and communication.
  • Flexibility & adaptiveness: Unsupervised learning algorithms can handle diverse data types and formats, adapting to new information without needing explicit instructions. This flexibility makes them useful for a wide range of exploratory and open-ended tasks.


  • Lack Of Interpretability: The results of unsupervised learning can sometimes be difficult to interpret, as the reasons behind the identified patterns aren’t always clear. This can be challenging when trying to explain or justify the findings.
  • Subjectivity & Bias: Depending on the chosen algorithm and parameters, unsupervised learning can introduce subjectivity and bias into the results.
  • Limited predictive power: Unlike supervised learning, which directly learns from labelled examples, unsupervised learning doesn’t provide direct predictions or classifications. While it can uncover patterns, it often requires further analysis or integration with other methods for drawing actionable conclusions.
  • Computationally Expensive: Some unsupervised learning algorithms, especially those handling large datasets or complex calculations, can be computationally demanding and require significant resources.