# VC Dimension

09 Jul 2013In learning theory, the VC dimension is a measure of capacity of a class of hypotheses \(\mathcal{H}\) (e.g., a set of classifiers). This notion of capacity indicates how complicated \(\mathcal{H}\) is. Although complicated \(\mathcal{H}\) may be able to fit well to the dataset at hand, yielding a low training error, there is a possibility that it overfits and gives high generalization error. The VC dimension provides a tool to analyze the generalization error of a class of hypotheses based on how complicated it is, independent of the input distribution, the target function, and the learning algorithm (i.e., a systematic approach to choose the best hypothesis \(g \in \mathcal{H}\)).

Capacity in VC theory is captured by the concept called *shattering*. Here we focus only on binary classification problems.

**shatter** \(n\) points if *there exists* a dataset \(\boldsymbol{X} = \{x_1,\ldots, x_n\}\) such that for any label assignment \(\boldsymbol{y} = (y_1, \ldots, y_n)\) where \(y_i \in \{-1, +1\}\), there exists a hypothesis \(h \in \mathcal{H}\) which can produce \(\boldsymbol{y} = h(\boldsymbol{X})\).

In a simpler terms, we say \(\mathcal{H}\) shatters \(n\) points if **there exists** a configuration of \(\boldsymbol{X} = \{x_1,\ldots, x_n\}\) such that \(\mathcal{H}\) can produce all possible \(2^n\) assignments of \(\boldsymbol{y}\). Things worth noting are

- If \(\mathcal{H}\) can produce any assignment of \(\boldsymbol{y}\) on just even one configuration of \(n\) points, then we say \(\mathcal{H}\) can shatter \(n\) points. So, when constructing an example, it makes sense to imagine a configuration of points such that \(\mathcal{H}\) can shatter easily.
- If \(\mathcal{H}\) can shatter \(n\) points, then obviously it can shatter less than \(n\) points.
- Likewise, if \(\mathcal{H}\) cannot shatter \(n\) points, then it cannot shatter more than \(n\) points.

As an example, the VC dimension of a linear classifier in two-dimensional space is 3. That is, three is the highest number of points a line can produce all possible \(\{-1, +1\}\) assignments. With four points, there are two cases out of 16 possible assignments a line cannot produce. In general, \(d_{VC}(\text{linear classifiers}) = d+1\) where \(d\) is the input dimension.

The VC dimension can be used to bound probabilistically the difference between the training and test errors. This result is known as VC inequality.

**Source**: Lectures by Professor Yaser Abu-Mostafa.

- Lecture 5 (Training versus Testing)
- Lecture 6 (Theory of Generalization)
- Lecture 7 (The VC Dimension)