What is Support Vector Machine (SVM): Artificial Intelligence Explained




A 3d graph with data points scattered across two different sections

In the realm of artificial intelligence and machine learning, there exist numerous algorithms that aid in the processing and interpretation of vast amounts of data. One such algorithm is the Support Vector Machine (SVM). This article will delve into the intricacies of SVM, explaining its purpose, how it works, and its applications in the real world.

Understanding SVM requires a basic grasp of machine learning concepts. Machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence, involves the use of algorithms to parse data, learn from it, and then make predictions or decisions without being explicitly programmed to do so. SVM is a supervised learning model, which means it learns from data that is already labeled. It is used for both classification and regression tasks, but it is primarily used in classification problems.

Concept of SVM

The fundamental idea behind SVM is simple: The algorithm creates a line or a hyperplane which separates the data into classes. SVM is an algorithm that takes data as an input and outputs a line that separates those classes if they are separable. The distance between the line and the nearest data points from both classes is maximized. These points are called support vectors.

The hyperplane is chosen to be the one for which this separation is maximum, hence the name Support Vector Machine, as it is supported by these vectors. The SVM algorithm is based on the idea of finding a hyperplane that best separates the features into different domains.

Hyperplanes and Support Vectors

Hyperplanes are decision boundaries that help classify the data points. Data points falling on either side of the hyperplane can be attributed to different classes. The dimension of the hyperplane depends upon the number of features. If the number of input features is 2, then the hyperplane is just a line. If the number of input features is 3, then the hyperplane becomes a two-dimensional plane. It becomes more difficult to visualize when the number of features exceeds three.

Support vectors are the data points, which are closest to the hyperplane. These points will define the separating line better by calculating margins. These points are more relevant to the construction of the classifier.

Margin and Maximum Margin Hyperplane

Margin is a separation of line to the nearest class points. A good margin is one where this separation is larger for both the classes. In SVM, it is tried to maximize this separation to get the maximum margin. The hyperplane for which the margin is maximum is the optimal hyperplane.

The maximum margin hyperplane is the central concept of SVMs. It is the result of the training process, which aims to maximize the distance of the hyperplane to the nearest points of each class, thus creating a ‘street’. The width of the street is the margin, and the SVM algorithm aims to maximize this width.

Mathematics Behind SVM

Section Image

SVMs are based on the idea of finding a hyperplane that best divides a dataset into two classes, as mentioned above. The support vectors and the hyperplane are the heart of SVM, and they are determined by solving a quadratic programming problem. The mathematics involved in this are complex and involve concepts from linear algebra, statistics, and optimization.

The goal of SVM is to find the optimal separating hyperplane which maximizes the margin of the training data. The decision function is fully specified by a (usually very small) subset of training samples, the support vectors. This makes the SVM very memory efficient, as it only has to remember the support vectors.

Kernel Trick

The kernel trick involves transforming the problem using a kernel function. In other words, the kernel function takes data as input and transforms it into the required form. SVM uses a technique called the kernel trick. Here, the kernel takes a low-dimensional input space and transforms it into a higher dimensional space. In other words, you can say that it converts nonseparable problem to separable problems by adding more dimension to it.

There are various types of functions such as linear, nonlinear, polynomial, radial basis function (RBF), and sigmoid. The choice of the kernel function depends on the data and the task at hand. For instance, the linear kernel is often used for text classification tasks, while the RBF kernel is a good choice for problems where the number of features is high.

Soft Margin

In some cases, the data is not linearly separable in such a way that we can draw a straight line between the two classes. This is where the concept of soft margin comes into play. The idea of soft margin is to allow some misclassifications in the training data if that allows a better fit to the rest of the data.

The soft margin parameter, often denoted as C, determines how much an SVM allows points to fall within the margin. A smaller C creates a wider street but more margin violations. If your SVM is overfitting, you may want to reduce C.

Applications of SVM

SVMs have a number of applications in several fields. Some common applications of SVM are- Face detection, Text and hypertext categorization, Classification of images, Bioinformatics, Protein fold and remote homology detection, Handwriting recognition, Generalized predictive control(GPC).

For example, in the field of bioinformatics, SVMs are used to classify proteins with up to 90% of the compounds classified correctly. In the field of handwriting recognition, SVMs are used with substantially better success rate. In the area of image recognition, SVMs are used to recognize handwritten characters used widely.

Advantages of SVM

SVMs offer several advantages. They are effective in high dimensional spaces and best suited for problems with complex domains where there are clear margins of separation in the data. To correctly classify the data, the SVM algorithm is robust against overfitting, even in cases where the number of dimensions is greater than the number of samples.

Moreover, it is memory efficient due to the use of a subset of training points (support vectors) in the decision function. It provides versatility through the deployment of common and custom kernels. In addition, SVMs can model non-linear decision boundaries, and there are many kernels to choose from. They are also fairly robust against overfitting, especially in high-dimensional space.

Disadvantages of SVM

Despite their advantages, SVMs also have several disadvantages. Firstly, they are not suitable for large datasets because of the high training time. Secondly, SVMs do not perform very well when the data set has more noise i.e. target classes are overlapping.

They also do not directly provide probability estimates. These are calculated using an expensive five-fold cross-validation. Finally, the results are not easy to visualize because they are not easily interpretable. This can make it difficult to understand why a particular decision was made by the model.


In conclusion, Support Vector Machines (SVM) are a powerful and flexible class of supervised algorithms for both classification and regression. They are memory efficient, versatile, and can model complex, high-dimensional data. However, they are not without their disadvantages, such as high training time for large datasets and difficulty with noisy, overlapping classes.

Despite these challenges, SVMs remain a popular choice in the field of machine learning, with applications ranging from bioinformatics to handwriting recognition. Understanding the underlying concepts, mathematics, and applications of SVMs can provide a solid foundation for further exploration and application of this robust machine learning algorithm.

Share this content

Latest posts