Artificial Intelligence Optimization Algorithms: AI Explained

Artificial intelligence has been revolutionary to almost every single aspect of our lives, from supply chains to social media. It is undeniable that this technology is truly remarkable, being able to perform multiple functions that were previously confined to the pages of science fiction. But what if it could do even more? 

Behind the scenes, both engineers and researchers are continuously refining neural networks, deep learning, and machine learning models to reach their full potential. These constant developments allow researchers to overcome limitations, maximize performance, perfect automation, optimize decision-making, and push the boundaries of what AI can achieve.

In this blog, we will explore the different techniques and optimization algorithms that allow these remarkable programs and apps to evolve continuously. 

Four must-know artificial intelligence optimization algorithms

We have selected four essential optimization algorithms to examine in-depth throughout this blog, which are:

  1. Particle swarm optimization
  2. Gradient descent optimization 
  3. Genetic algorithms 
  4. Generalized simulated annealing

1. Particle swarm optimization 

This form of optimization algorithm is inspired by animals that display coordinated movements, such as swarms of insects, flocks of birds, and schools of fish. It is based on the notion that these creatures ‘profit from the discoveries and previous experience of all other members’ of the group; for instance, there is improved safety in the numbers of an immense school of tuna. 

A shark hunting in an immense school of fish.

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The particles within this optimization process represent individual solutions to a given problem. These particles move around a search space, the field where all feasible solutions exist. 

A diagram that shows the particiles within a search space.

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The particles move influenced by their own experience and the knowledge of neighboring particles. At the start of the algorithm, they are assigned random velocities and positions, which determine their movement behavior. 

The particles then continuously update these factors based on their own historical best solution (the best position the particle has encountered so far) and the global best solution (the best position discovered by any particle in the population).

This adaption is based on two main components: 

Cognitive: Particles remember their best position and move towards it.

Social: Particles share information with their neighbors and move towards the best position found by the swarm as a whole.

A GIF. showing how particle swam optimization works.

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These adaptations influence the movement of the particle by controlling the balance between these two goals:

  • Exploration: Encourages particles to search a wide area of space to discover new solutions.
  • Exploitation: Particles refine and optimize promising solutions.

This entire process is repeated until either a termination condition is met, such as reaching a maximum number of iterations, or achieving a satisfactory solution. 

A flowchart that shows the process of the particle swam optimization.

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This process is renowned for its simplicity, ease of implementation, and ability to handle different search spaces. This means it has been regularly used to solve optimization problems in various sectors, including engineering, finance, and image processing. 

However, one of its most fascinating implications is improving machine learning algorithms. Some of the use cases of this incredible model are:

  1. Feature selection: This model can be used to identify a subset of relevant features from a large feature space. By assigning each particle a binary value indicating the presence or absence of a feature, it is able to explore different feature combinations to find the combination that optimizes the performance of the learning algorithm.
  2. Hyperparameter optimization: This program can also be used to fine-tune the hyperparameters of machine learning algorithms, the parameters that are set before the model is exposed to training data. These include such factors as learning rate, regularization strength, and kernel functions. Particle swarms can search the hyperparameter space to find the values that generate the best performance, reducing the need for manual tuning.
  3. Model selection: Particle swarm optimization can assist in selecting the best model architecture for a given problem. By treating each particle as a potential solution with specific hyperparameters, the algorithm can explore the search space to find the combination that generates the best performance in accuracy or error rate.
  4. Neural network training: Another potential function of this model is that it can be used to optimize neural networks during the training process. Each particle represents a potential solution, which corresponds to a set of weights and biases found within the network. By updating the particle positions based on the network’s performance, it is able to discover the optimal set of parameters that can maximize accuracy and minimize error.
  5. Ensemble learning: This remarkable algorithm can combine multiple machine learning models to form an ensemble. Each particle can represent a specific combination of models. By evaluating the ensemble’s performance, the system can discover the best combination that most successfully optimizes the designated evaluation metrics.
A flowchart that demonstrates how ensemble models work.

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2. Gradient descent optimization

Gradient descent optimization is a widely used iterative algorithm in artificial intelligence for optimizing the parameters of a model to find the minimum of a differentiable function.

This data-driven approach works by repeatedly adjusting the parameters in a direction that decreases the error within the model’s predictions on new data, also known as the loss function.

The process can be broken down into the following components:

  1. Initialization: The algorithm is initially provided with random values for its parameters. 
  2. Forward propagation: The model is fed an initial data set to generate output values and forecast outcomes.
  3. Loss calculation: The machine then measures the loss function, which measures the difference between the predicted outputs and the true output.
  4. Backward propagation: The gradients are now calculated, which represent the direction and magnitude of the steepest increase in the loss function.
  5. Parameter update: The parameters are updated by taking a step in the opposite direction of the gradient. The size of the step is determined by the learning rate, which controls the magnitude of changes to parameters. A low learning rate results in smaller steps, while a larger learning rate can lead to faster convergence.
  6. Iteration: Minimize the objective function by following steps 2-5 until a stopping criterion is satisfied, such as reaching a maximum number of iterations or attaining a desired level of accuracy.
A graph that showcases an example of a gradient.

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There are three subcategories of gradient descent optimization that all work on the same principle but offer important deviations:

  1. Batch gradient descent: In batch gradient descent, the entire dataset is used to compute the gradients and update the parameters in each iteration. 
  2. Stochastic gradient descent: This type of model only uses one randomly selected data point to determine the gradient of the algorithm. 
  3. Mini-batch gradient descent: Mini-batch gradient descent is a compromise between batch and stochastic gradient descent, as it uses a small subset of randomly selected data points. 
An infographic that illustrates the three different gradient models.

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The pros and cons of each of these types of models can be viewed in the table below. 

TypeProsCons
Batch gradient descentA more accurate estimate of the true gradientThe algorithm can be slow, especially when dealing with large-scale datasets
Updates to the model parameters tend to be more stable and consistentHigh computational cost due to the amount of data
Particularly effective for optimizing smooth convex functionsRequires storing the entire dataset in memory which limits the scalability
Faster convergence to the optimal solutionCan get stuck in a suboptimal solution
Lacks the capability to search for potentially better solutions
Stochastic gradient descent Well-suited for large datasets where processing the entire dataset in each iteration may be time-consumingHigh variance in the gradient estimates
Potential to explore different regions of the parameter spaceConvergence can be less stable.
Able to handle large datasets that do not fit into memoryIt is important to precisely tune the learning rate. 
Mini-batch gradient descentBest of both worlds, high degree of memory efficiency and accurate gradientsIntroduces an additional hyperparameter, the mini-batch size, which requires fine-tuning 
Provides gradient estimates with lower varianceMore complex implementation due to handling mini-batch updates, managing the mini-batch size, and adjusting the learning rate schedule
Requires less memory allowing it to handle bigger datasets Can get stuck in a suboptimal solution

3. Genetic algorithms 

Genetic algorithms are a type of model that is inspired by the work of Charles Darwin. His research into natural selection and evolution, the idea that both animals and plant species have constantly adapted to survive, can be seen in action in this remarkable adaptive optimization technique. 

An infographic that shows how mice adapt to change their color to survive predators.

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In a genetic algorithm, a population of solutions, called individuals, evolves over multiple generations to survive. The model employs a combination of three genetic operators that replicate natural genetics, which are:

  1. Selection: Replicates the most successful solution found in a population.
  2. Crossover: Attributes of two different solutions are combined to create a new solution.
  3. Mutation: Completely changes a random solution. 
An infographic that showcases the different types of genetic modifiers, which are: crossover, selection, and mutation.

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Here is a simplified tutorial of how genetic algorithms work in machine learning algorithms:

  1. Initialization: The algorithm starts by creating an initial population of individuals.
  2. Evaluation: Each individual in the population is evaluated by calculating their fitness in real time, which represents how well it solves the optimization problem. 
  3. Selection: Individuals with higher fitness scores have a higher probability of being selected for reproduction. The selection process aims to mimic the natural occurrence of “survival of the fittest.”
  4. Crossover: Selected individuals are paired and undergo recombination, which involves exchanging ‘genetic’ information between them. This process generates new offspring by combining the characteristics of the parent individuals.
  5. Mutation: Some of the newly created offspring undergo random changes or mutations in their genetic information. This introduces diversity into the population and allows for further exploration of different regions in the solution space.
  6. Replacement: The new offspring, along with some individuals from the previous generation, form the next generation of the population.
  7. Repeat: Steps 2-6 are repeated for a predefined number of generations or until a termination criterion is met. This could be reaching an optimum solution, exceeding a maximum number of iterations, or not observing significant improvement over multiple generations.
The endless cycle of the genetic algorithm from initialization of population to converenges.

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4. Generalized simulated annealing 

Annealing is a term used in metallurgy, the branch of science that studies metals and their properties. It involves the process of heating a material and then gradually cooling it down to refine the metal and reduce defects. 

An infographic that explains how the annealing proccess happens in metallurgy.

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This derivative-free optimization technique borrows heavily from this scientific procedure. The process starts with the algorithm selecting a solution randomly within the search space. 

The solution is then slowly changed to explore the surrounding search space by the following steps:

  1. Perturbation: The current candidate is slightly changed to explore neighboring solutions.
  2. Evaluation: This new solution is evaluated in relation to the current objective function. 
  3. Acceptance criteria: The algorithm then uses ‘acceptance criteria’ to determine whether to accept or reject the solution. If the new model is deemed better, it is accepted. However, even if the new solution is worse, it may still be accepted to allow further exploration. The probability of accepting worse options decreases as the algorithm progresses.
  4. Cooling schedule: This model uses a cooling schedule that gradually reduces the exploration rate over time. This process determines how much the acceptance probability decreases as the algorithm proceeds. Initially, the acceptance probability is high, allowing the program to thoroughly explore the search space. As the cooling schedule progresses, the figure decreases, leading to more exploitation and convergence that narrows down on an optimal solution.
  5. Termination criteria: The algorithm will continue iterating until a termination criterion is met. Common termination criteria include reaching a maximum number of iterations, achieving a desired level of solution quality, or when the temperature (exploration rate) reaches a minimum threshold.

Other types of artificial intelligence optimization 

While we have focused on four in-depth case studies, it is important that we highlight some of the many other artificial intelligence optimization algorithms currently available.

  1. Random search algorithm: A simple optimization technique that explores the search space by randomly sampling points and evaluating their objective function values without relying on any specific patterns or gradients.
  2. Grid search algorithm: This model explores a predefined set of hyperparameter combinations and determines the best combination that optimizes the performance of a model.
  3. Linear regression: An algorithm that finds the best-fitting line that represents the relationship between a dependent variable and one or more independent variables.
  4. Cloud routing optimization: The process of efficiently allocating and routing network traffic within a cloud infrastructure to maximize performance, minimize latency, and optimize resource utilization.
  5. Ant colony optimization: Ant Colony Optimization works by mirroring the foraging behavior of ants, where ‘artificial ants’ move through a graph, deposit pheromone trails, and make probabilistic decisions based on the pheromone levels to find the optimal solutions. 
  6. Firefly algorithm: This algorithm starts by randomly generating a population of digital fireflies, with each insect representing a candidate solution. By evaluating their objective function values, fireflies are attracted to each other based on brightness, with brighter fireflies indicating better solutions.
  7. Artificial bee colony: Inspired by its real-life counterpart, this artificial colony consists of three types of bees: 
  • Employed: These explore the search space by making small modifications to their current positions.
  • Onlooker: This type selects promising employed bees based on the quality of their solutions and modifies them to explore new areas of the search space.
  • Scout: Scouts abandon solutions of low quality and randomly search for new solutions in unexplored regions of the search space. 
An infographic that shows how ant colony optimization happens.

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Supercharging AI with optimization wizardry

Optimization is an often complex field that plays a crucial role in enhancing the performance and efficiency of artificial intelligence models. With its diverse range of techniques and algorithms, navigating this subject matter requires continuous learning. Whether you want to focus on a machine learning model, or have a fascination with deep learning models, there’ll be plenty to research and learn about.

To delve deeper into this fascinating subject, we recommend you explore additional sources of information, such as webinars, books, case studies, podcasts, and tutorials, which can provide valuable insights and further enrich your understanding of this fascinating topic. 

To remain up-to-date and knowledgeable about the numerous advancements in the field of artificial intelligence, keep your eyes on our must-read blog