# Singular Value Decomposition Explained

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In this post, we build an understanding of the singular value decomposition (SVD) to decompose a matrix into constituent parts.

## What is the Singular Value Decomposition?

The singular value decomposition (SVD) is a way to decompose a matrix into constituent parts. It is a more general form of the eigendecomposition. While the eigendecomposition is limited to square matrices, the singular value decomposition can be applied to non-square matrices.

## How to perform a Singular Value Decomposition?

Specifically, the SVD decomposes any matrix A into an orthogonal matrix U, a diagonal matrix Σ, and another orthogonal matrix V^T.

A = UΣV^T

U consists of the eigenvectors of AA^T, while V is a matrix of eigenvectors of A^TA. The singular values in Σ are the square root of the eigenvalues of AA^T.

Remember that the eigendecomposition can only be performed on square matrices. By multiplying A by its transpose, you get a matrix that has the same number of rows as columns, and you can perform the eigendecomposition. U is also known as a matrix of left-singular vectors, Σ as the singular values, and V^T as the right singular vectors. Phew….that’s a lot to digest.

Luckily, you’ll probably never have to calculate this by hand since computers will do it for you. Therefore, I’m not going to through a manual example. Instead, I’ll focus on a more conceptual understanding of the SVD. If you are interested in how we get from AA^T to the SVD, I highly recommend checking out the following by Gilbert Strang.

As we’ve discussed in the chapter on the eigendecomposition, applying repeated operations to a diagonal matrix is much easier and computationally less expensive than applying it to non-diagonal ones.

The matrices U and V are column-orthogonal, which means all matrices U, Σ, and V^T are linearly independent. This is extremely important in data science and machine learning because it allows you to conceptually separate information into distinct and independent concepts.

## Singular Value Decomposition Example

Imagine you had a grocery store selling different products, and you captured all your products as columns in a matrix and all customers as rows. Every row indicates how many items of a certain product a consumer has bought. We assume that buying larger amounts of a certain product indicates a greater preference.

I’ve calculated this using a software package in Python. Usually, such decompositions are done by a computer, so it is much more important to have a conceptual understanding of what the SVD does rather than being able to calculate it by hand.

You can think of U as representing the similarity of various products to certain concepts.

V^T encapsulates a concept such as a “wine lover” or a cheese lover, while Sigma (s) represents the strength of that concept.

In this case, it seems to me that there must be something like a “french gourmand” who likes wine and cheese but who doesn’t like sweets and a sweet lover who doesn’t like wine and cheese. The first two column entries in U indicate that wine has a high similarity to the concept of a French gourmand. Sigma shows us that this seems to be a strong concept, and V^T indicates that Customers 1 and 2 strongly associate with this concept.

## Summary

While it is rarely necessary to calculate the SVD by hand, a conceptual understanding is useful for many applications such as machine learning.

This post is part of a series on linear algebra for machine learning. To read other posts in this series, go to the index. Sharing is caring