#2 – Linear Regression with One Variable

In my last post I talked about two types of machine learning algorithms – supervised and unsupervised. The linear regression model comes under the first category. The regression model is basically used to predict the real valued output. So suppose you have a data-set that has the price of houses for houses of different size and you want to predict the price for a house of some particular size not present in the data-set.

Lets assume that the data-set looks like the one below, and you wish to predict the price for a house of size 1250 sq. ft (I am using the lecture example here).


The most logical and simple way to do so would be to draw a straight line preferably through the middle of all the points on the graph. We can certainly do this easily if there were only a few points on the graph, perhaps four or maybe five. But for a larger number of data points, this task becomes too difficult to solve by trial and error.

But thankfully it turns out that there is an algorithm that can do this efficiently for us. It is the “Gradient Descent” algorithm. But before I go into its details, let me talk about another concept of “Cost Function” which will be used in the gradient descent discussion.

The Cost Function lets us figure out how to fit the best possible straight line to our data. To draw a straight line you basically need two parameters – intercept on the y-axis and the slope of the line. So lets denote our straight line with

h = to + t*x                                                         equation 1

where to is the y-intercept and t is the slope of the line (t stands for theta and h stands for hypothesis). Now we use each point on the x-axis and calculate the corresponding value of hypothesis ‘h’ using the above equation. These are the values that we predicted for some particular value of t0 and t. But they may not give us a line that correctly represents our data.

We solve this problem by using the concept of “Cost Function”. We denote our cost function by

J = 1/2m * [sum(h(i) – y(i)]^2  over all points            equation 2

where h(i) is the value of h due to the i th x point and y(i) is the original value of the point on the y axis corresponding to the i th x value. m is the total number of points on the graph or the number of training set examples.

This cost function basically tells us how good is our line is in representing the data-set. If the points predicted by our line are vary far away from the actual data-set values, then the cost function would be very high and we would have to vary the values of to and t so that we can get a new line. In the end we basically want to find those values of to and t that can minimize our cost function. This is where the gradient descent comes into picture.

Gradient Descent is our algorithm for minimizing the cost function J.

The way it does this is that it assumes a value of to and t and then keeps changing it until we hopefully reach a minimum value. The equation to calculate the subsequent values of t0 and t is,


The alpha in the above equation basically controls how big a step you take downwards. If alpha is too small, the algorithm would be very slow and take a long time to compute; if alpha is too large, the algorithm may overshoot the minimum and fail to converge, or may even diverge. Thus an optimal value for alpha must be selected by trial. Usually it becomes clear what is the optimal value after running the algorithm once.

As an example (the one used in lecture), this is the model when a random value of t0 and t are chosen,


And this is the value after running through four iterations of varying t0 and t1. The various circular lines denote the points which have the same cost.

four iter

And this is the final result. The red crosses in the right figures show the path followed by the gradient descent to reach the minimum.


In this way we have a final prediction model for our data-set and now we can hopefully predict the correct price model for any set of given house sizes.

This was Linear Regression with one variable. In my next post I will talk about Linear Regression with Multiple Variables.

Stay tuned….




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