How much can k-means be improved by using better initialization and repeats?

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Abstract

In this paper, we study what are the most important factors that deteriorate the performance of the k-means algorithm, and how much this deterioration can be overcome either by using a better initialization technique, or by repeating (restarting) the algorithm. Our main finding is that when the clusters overlap, k-means can be significantly improved using these two tricks. Simple furthest point heuristic (Maxmin) reduces the number of erroneous clusters from 15% to 6%, on average, with our clustering benchmark. Repeating the algorithm 100 times reduces it further down to 1%. This accuracy is more than enough for most pattern recognition applications. However, when the data has well separated clusters, the performance of k-means depends completely on the goodness of the initialization. Therefore, if high clustering accuracy is needed, a better algorithm should be used instead.

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Fränti, P., & Sieranoja, S. (2019). How much can k-means be improved by using better initialization and repeats? Pattern Recognition, 93, 95–112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.patcog.2019.04.014

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