In machine learning, pattern recognition is the assignment of a label to a given input value. An example of pattern recognition is classification, which attempts to assign each input value to one of a given set of classes (for example, determine whether a given email is "spam" or "non-spam"). However, pattern recognition is a more general problem that encompasses other types of output as well. Other examples are regression, which assigns a real-valued output to each input; sequence labeling, which assigns a class to each member of a sequence of values (for example, part of speech tagging, which assigns a part of speech to each word in an input sentence); and parsing, which assigns a parse tree to an input sentence, describing the syntactic structure of the sentence.
Pattern recognition algorithms generally aim to provide a reasonable answer for all possible inputs and to perform "most likely" matching of the inputs, taking into account their statistical variation. This is opposed to pattern matching algorithms, which look for exact matches in the input with pre-existing patterns. A common example of a pattern-matching algorithm is regular expression matching, which looks for patterns of a given sort in textual data and is included in the search capabilities of many text editors and word processors. In contrast to pattern recognition, pattern matching is generally not considered a type of machine learning, although pattern-matching algorithms (especially with fairly general, carefully tailored patterns) can sometimes succeed in providing similar-quality output to the sort provided by pattern-recognition algorithms.
Pattern recognition is studied in many fields, including psychology, psychiatry, ethology, cognitive science, traffic flow and computer science.
Pattern recognition is generally categorized according to the type of learning procedure used to generate the output value. Supervised learning assumes that a set of training data (the training set) has been provided, consisting of a set of instances that have been properly labeled by hand with the correct output. A learning procedure then generates a model that attempts to meet two sometimes conflicting objectives: Perform as well as possible on the training data, and generalize as well as possible to new data (usually, this means being as simple as possible, for some technical definition of "simple", in accordance with Occam's Razor, discussed below). Unsupervised learning, on the other hand, assumes training data that has not been hand-labeled, and attempts to find inherent patterns in the data that can then be used to determine the correct output value for new data instances. A combination of the two that has recently been explored is semi-supervised learning, which uses a combination of labeled and unlabeled data (typically a small set of labeled data combined with a large amount of unlabeled data). Note that in cases of unsupervised learning, there may be no training data at all to speak of; in other words, the data to be labeled is the training data.
Note that sometimes different terms are used to describe the corresponding supervised and unsupervised learning procedures for the same type of output. For example, the unsupervised equivalent of classification is normally known as clustering, based on the common perception of the task as involving no training data to speak of, and of grouping the input data into clusters based on some inherent similarity measure (e.g. the distance between instances, considered as vectors in a multi-dimensional vector space), rather than assigning each input instance into one of a set of pre-defined classes. Note also that in some fields, the terminology is different: For example, in community ecology, the term "classification" is used to refer to what is commonly known as "clustering".