Decision tree learning

Decision tree learning or induction of decision trees is one of the predictive modelling approaches used in statistics, data mining and machine learning. It uses a decision tree (as a predictive model) to go from observations about an item (represented in the branches) to conclusions about the item's target value (represented in the leaves). Tree models where the target variable can take a discrete set of values are called classification trees; in these tree structures, leaves represent class labels and branches represent conjunctions of features that lead to those class labels. Decision trees where the target variable can take continuous values (typically real numbers) are called regression trees. Decision trees are among the most popular machine learning algorithms given their intelligibility and simplicity.[1]

In decision analysis, a decision tree can be used to visually and explicitly represent decisions and decision making. In data mining, a decision tree describes data (but the resulting classification tree can be an input for decision making). This page deals with decision trees in data mining.

A tree showing survival of passengers on the Titanic ("sibsp" is the number of spouses or siblings aboard). The figures under the leaves show the probability of survival and the percentage of observations in the leaf. Summarizing: Your chances of survival were good if you were (i) a female or (ii) a male younger than 9.5 years with strictly less than 3 siblings.

Decision tree learning is a method commonly used in data mining.[2] The goal is to create a model that predicts the value of a target variable based on several input variables.

A decision tree is a simple representation for classifying examples. For this section, assume that all of the input features have finite discrete domains, and there is a single target feature called the "classification". Each element of the domain of the classification is called a class. A decision tree or a classification tree is a tree in which each internal (non-leaf) node is labeled with an input feature. The arcs coming from a node labeled with an input feature are labeled with each of the possible values of the target feature or the arc leads to a subordinate decision node on a different input feature. Each leaf of the tree is labeled with a class or a probability distribution over the classes, signifying that the data set has been classified by the tree into either a specific class, or into a particular probability distribution (which, if the decision tree is well-constructed, is skewed towards certain subsets of classes).

A tree is built by splitting the source set, constituting the root node of the tree, into subsets—which constitute the successor children. The splitting is based on a set of splitting rules based on classification features.[3] This process is repeated on each derived subset in a recursive manner called recursive partitioning. The recursion is completed when the subset at a node has all the same values of the target variable, or when splitting no longer adds value to the predictions. This process of top-down induction of decision trees (TDIDT)[4] is an example of a greedy algorithm, and it is by far the most common strategy for learning decision trees from data.[citation needed]

In data mining, decision trees can be described also as the combination of mathematical and computational techniques to aid the description, categorization and generalization of a given set of data.

The term classification and regression tree (CART) analysis is an umbrella term used to refer to either of the above procedures, first introduced by Breiman et al. in 1984.[5] Trees used for regression and trees used for classification have some similarities – but also some differences, such as the procedure used to determine where to split.[5]

Some techniques, often called ensemble methods, construct more than one decision tree:

A special case of a decision tree is a decision list,[10] which is a one-sided decision tree, so that every internal node has exactly 1 leaf node and exactly 1 internal node as a child (except for the bottommost node, whose only child is a single leaf node). While less expressive, decision lists are arguably easier to understand than general decision trees due to their added sparsity, permit non-greedy learning methods[11] and monotonic constraints to be imposed.[12]

ID3 and CART were invented independently at around the same time (between 1970 and 1980)[citation needed], yet follow a similar approach for learning a decision tree from training tuples.

Algorithms for constructing decision trees usually work top-down, by choosing a variable at each step that best splits the set of items.[20] Different algorithms use different metrics for measuring "best". These generally measure the homogeneity of the target variable within the subsets. Some examples are given below. These metrics are applied to each candidate subset, and the resulting values are combined (e.g., averaged) to provide a measure of the quality of the split.

Used by the ID3, C4.5 and C5.0 tree-generation algorithms. Information gain is based on the concept of entropy and information content from information theory.

That is, the expected information gain is the mutual information, meaning that on average, the reduction in the entropy of T is the mutual information.

Information gain is used to decide which feature to split on at each step in building the tree. Simplicity is best, so we want to keep our tree small. To do so, at each step we should choose the split that results in the most consistent child nodes. A commonly used measure of consistency is called information which is measured in bits. For each node of the tree, the information value "represents the expected amount of information that would be needed to specify whether a new instance should be classified yes or no, given that the example reached that node".[21]

Consider an example data set with four attributes: outlook (sunny, overcast, rainy), temperature (hot, mild, cool), humidity (high, normal), and windy (true, false), with a binary (yes or no) target variable, play, and 14 data points. To construct a decision tree on this data, we need to compare the information gain of each of four trees, each split on one of the four features. The split with the highest information gain will be taken as the first split and the process will continue until all children nodes each have consistent data, or until the information gain is 0.

To find the information gain of the split using windy, we must first calculate the information in the data before the split. The original data contained nine yes's and five no's.

The split using the feature windy results in two children nodes, one for a windy value of true and one for a windy value of false. In this data set, there are six data points with a true windy value, three of which have a play (where play is the target variable) value of yes and three with a play value of no. The eight remaining data points with a windy value of false contain two no's and six yes's. The information of the windy=true node is calculated using the entropy equation above. Since there is an equal number of yes's and no's in this node, we have

For the node where windy=false there were eight data points, six yes's and two no's. Thus we have

To find the information of the split, we take the weighted average of these two numbers based on how many observations fell into which node.

Now we can calculate the information gain achieved by splitting on the windy feature.

To build the tree, the information gain of each possible first split would need to be calculated. The best first split is the one that provides the most information gain. This process is repeated for each impure node until the tree is complete. This example is adapted from the example appearing in Witten et al.[21]

Introduced in CART,[5] variance reduction is often employed in cases where the target variable is continuous (regression tree), meaning that use of many other metrics would first require discretization before being applied. The variance reduction of a node N is defined as the total reduction of the variance of the target variable Y due to the split at this node:

To build the tree, the "goodness" of all candidate splits for the root node need to be calculated. The candidate with the maximum value will split the root node, and the process will continue for each impure node until the tree is complete.

Compared to other metrics such as information gain, the measure of "goodness" will attempt to create a more balanced tree, leading to more-consistent decision time. However, it sacrifices some priority for creating pure children which can lead to additional splits that are not present with other metrics.

Amongst other data mining methods, decision trees have various advantages:

Many data mining software packages provide implementations of one or more decision tree algorithms.

In a decision tree, all paths from the root node to the leaf node proceed by way of conjunction, or AND. In a decision graph, it is possible to use disjunctions (ORs) to join two more paths together using minimum message length (MML).[35] Decision graphs have been further extended to allow for previously unstated new attributes to be learnt dynamically and used at different places within the graph.[36] The more general coding scheme results in better predictive accuracy and log-loss probabilistic scoring.[citation needed] In general, decision graphs infer models with fewer leaves than decision trees.

Evolutionary algorithms have been used to avoid local optimal decisions and search the decision tree space with little a priori bias.[37][38]

The tree can be searched for in a bottom-up fashion.[40] Or several trees can be constructed parallelly to reduce the expected number of tests till classification.[31]