How Does Image Classification Work: A Simple Guide

Have you ever wondered how your phone can identify an object just by capturing its image? Or how social media platforms automatically tag people in photos? These amazing feats are possible thanks to AI-powered image recognition and classification.

In this brief introduction, we’ll explore how computers learn to interpret and detect images, which powers many impressive advancements in artificial intelligence. We’ll also discuss popular methods for classifying images to help you understand how image classification and computer vision are transforming the way technology interacts with the world around us.

Pixel-Level vs. Object-Based Classification

When working with image classification, you’ll encounter two main techniques: pixel-level classification and object-based classification.

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In pixel-level classification, only the spectral information (intensity) of individual pixels is considered. This method analyzes pixels separately, disregarding any contextual information from surrounding pixels. Common pixel-based techniques include minimum-distance-to-mean, maximum-likelihood, and minimum-Mahalanobis-distance, all of which operate by examining the “distance” between class means and the target pixels.

On the other hand, object-based classification takes into account both the spectral information of a pixel and the spatial information of nearby pixels. This approach allows for more context when classifying images, as it considers contiguous regions of pixels instead of individual pixels in isolation. This term “object” refers to these regions rather than specific target objects within the image.

Both single-label and multi-label classifications can be applied within these techniques, depending on whether your goal is to assign a single label or multiple labels for each region in the image.

By understanding the distinction between pixel-level and object-based classification, you can choose the appropriate method for your image analysis needs, whether it’s for object detection or image segmentation purposes. So, when working with images, remember that pixel-level classification focuses on individual pixels, while object-based classification considers both pixels and their spatial relationships.

Preprocessing Image Data for Object Detection

When working with image data for object detection and classification, it’s essential to preprocess the images, ensuring they are ready for the machine learning algorithms. Preprocessing includes selecting and refining specific regions or objects within the images. This process significantly impacts the performance of the classification system.

To start with preprocessing, you need to consider the number of objects of interest within the images. If there is only one object, you can use image localization to define a bounding box around the object. These bounding boxes help the computer focus on the important areas within the image and provide valuable pixel values that outline the object.

If multiple objects of interest are present in the image, you can use object detection techniques to apply bounding boxes around all relevant objects. This approach helps the computer prioritize multiple parts of the image when training the machine learning classifier.

Intersection Over Union - Object Detection Bounding Boxes

Another preprocessing technique you can use is image segmentation. This method divides the entire image into segments based on similar features. Image segmentation groups similar pixels together into masks representing the shapes and boundaries of relevant objects in the image. This technique enables the computer to focus on key features of the images, providing more accurate, pixel-level labels compared to bounding boxes.

Once you have completed object detection or image segmentation, it’s essential to apply labels to the highlighted regions. These labels, paired with the object’s pixel values, are then used as input in machine learning algorithms to identify patterns associated with different labels. This process ultimately enables the creation of a reliable image classification system.

Remember, properly preprocessing image data for object detection is critical for achieving excellent performance with machine learning algorithms. By focusing on segmentation, localization, and labeling, you can ensure your dataset is well-prepared for object detection and classification tasks.

Machine Learning Algorithms

In the world of image classification, various machine learning algorithms are utilized for training and testing data. Let’s take a brief look at a few common types of these algorithms.

K-Nearest Neighbors

The K-Nearest Neighbors (KNN) algorithm is a straightforward classification method that examines the nearest training examples and their labels to determine the most probable label for a given test example. In this case, feature vectors and labels of training images are stored, and only the feature vector is processed during testing. Despite its simplicity and ability to handle multiple classes, KNN can be prone to misclassification if only a subset of features is crucial for classifying the image.

Support Vector Machines

Support Vector Machines (SVM) is another classification approach that places points in space and draws dividing lines between them. Objects are then classified based on which side of the dividing plane their points fall on. SVM can perform nonlinear classification using a technique called the kernel trick. However, SVM can be limited by size and speed, with performance decreasing as size increases.

Multi-Layer Perceptrons (Neural Networks)

Inspired by the human brain, Multi-Layer Perceptrons (MLP), also known as neural networks, are machine learning algorithms consisting of interconnected layers. Much like our neurons, these layers work in tandem to make assumptions about input features and their relation to an image’s classes. These assumptions are adjusted during the training process. Due to their ability to learn non-linear relationships, simple neural network models like MLP can be more accurate than other models. Nonetheless, they do face challenges such as non-convex loss functions.

Remember, it’s essential to choose the appropriate machine learning algorithm for your image classification tasks. Each algorithm has its strengths and weaknesses, so ensure you consider the specific requirements of your project before selecting one.

Deep Learning Algorithms (CNNs)

Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) have become a popular choice for image classification tasks. These networks are a tailored version of neural networks, combining multilayer networks with specialized layers that extract essential features for classifying objects. The standout feature of CNNs is their ability to automatically discover, generate, and learn image features, significantly reducing the need for manual labeling and segmentation in preparing images for machine learning algorithms. Moreover, CNNs outperform MLP networks in handling non-convex loss functions.

The term “convolutional” in Convolutional Neural Networks comes from the creation of convolutions. CNNs work by taking a filter and sliding it over an image, similar to observing sections of a landscape through a movable window and focusing on features visible through the window. The filter has numerical values, which are multiplied with the pixel values, resulting in a new frame or matrix containing numbers representing the original image. This process is repeated for several filters, and then the frames are combined into a new, slightly smaller, and simpler image. Pooling is a technique used to select only the most critical values in the image, with the ultimate goal of having convolutional layers extract key parts of the image for the neural network to recognize objects.

CNNs consist of two distinct parts: convolutional layers and the neural network itself. The convolutional layers extract image features and transform them into a format that the neural network layers can interpret and learn. Early convolutional layers focus on basic image elements like lines and boundaries. Middle convolutional layers start capturing more intricate shapes, such as simple curves and corners. Later, deeper convolutional layers extract high-level image features, which are passed into the neural network section of the CNN and learned by the classifier.

In essence, CNNs like AlexNet, ResNet, VGGNet, GoogleNet, DenseNet, and SENet, have transformed the field of image classification, enabling the development of complex and efficient image classifiers. These networks employ activation functions, dropout, and other techniques like support vector machines (SVM) and ReLU layers to improve efficiency and accuracy. As a result, CNNs are now widely used in various applications, such as object recognition in photos and automatic tagging on social media platforms.

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