A self-organizing map (SOM) or self-organizing feature map (SOFM) is an unsupervised machine learning technique used to produce a low-dimensional (typically two-dimensional) representation of a higher dimensional data set while preserving the topological structure of the data. For example, a data set with variables measured in observations could be represented as clusters of observations with similar values for the variables. These clusters then could be visualized as a two-dimensional "map" such that observations in proximal clusters have more similar values than observations in distal clusters. This can make high-dimensional data easier to visualize and analyze. An SOM is a type of artificial neural network but is trained using competitive learning rather than the error-correction learning (e.g., backpropagation with gradient descent) used by other artificial neural networks. The SOM was introduced by the Finnish professor Teuvo Kohonen in the 1980s and therefore is sometimes called a Kohonen map or Kohonen network. The Kohonen map or network is a computationally convenient abstraction building on biological models of neural systems from the 1970s and morphogenesis models dating back to Alan Turing in the 1950s. SOMs create internal representations reminiscent of the cortical homunculus, a distorted representation of the human body, based on a neurological "map" of the areas and proportions of the human brain dedicated to processing sensory functions, for different parts of the body. Self-organizing maps, like most artificial neural networks, operate in two modes: training and mapping. First, training uses an input data set (the "input space") to generate a lower-dimensional representation of the input data (the "map space"). Second, mapping classifies additional input data using the generated map. In most cases, the goal of training is to represent an input space with p dimensions as a map space with two dimensions. Specifically, an input space with p variables is said to have p dimensions.
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