Student Perspectives: An Introduction to Deep Kernel Machines

A post by Edward Milsom, PhD student on the Compass programme.

This blog post provides a simple introduction to Deep Kernel Machines[1] (DKMs), a novel supervised learning method that combines the advantages of both deep learning and kernel methods. This work provides the foundation of my current research on convolutional DKMs, which is supervised by Dr Laurence Aitchison.

Why aren’t kernels cool anymore?

Kernel methods were once top-dog in machine learning due to their ability to implicitly map data to complicated feature spaces, where the problem usually becomes simpler, without ever explicitly computing the transformation. However, in the past decade deep learning has become the new king for complicated tasks like computer vision and natural language processing.

Neural networks are flexible when learning representations

The reason is twofold: First, neural networks have millions of tunable parameters that allow them to learn their feature mappings automatically from the data, which is crucial for domains like images which are too complex for us to specify good, useful features by hand. Second, their layer-wise structure means these mappings can be built up to increasingly more abstract representations, while each layer itself is relatively simple[2]. For example, trying to learn a single function that takes in pixels from pictures of animals and outputs their species is difficult; it is easier to map pixels to corners and edges, then shapes, then body parts, and so on.

Kernel methods are rigid when learning representations

It is therefore notable that classical kernel methods lack these characteristics: most kernels have a very small number of tunable hyperparameters, meaning their mappings cannot flexibly adapt to the task at hand, leaving us stuck with a feature space that, while complex, might be ill-suited to our problem. (more…)

Student Perspectives: Spectral Clustering for Rapid Identification of Farm Strategies

A post by Dan Milner, PhD student on the Compass programme.

Image 1: Smallholder Farm – Yebelo, southern Ethiopia


This blog describes an approach being developed to deliver rapid classification of farmer strategies. The data comes from a survey conducted with two groups of smallholder farmers (see image 2), one group living in the Taita Hills area of southern Kenya and the other in Yebelo, southern Ethiopia. This work would not have been possible without the support of my supervisors James Hammond, from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) (and developer of the Rural Household Multi Indicator Survey, RHoMIS, used in this research), as well as Andrew Dowsey, Levi Wolf and Kate Robson Brown from the University of Bristol.

Image 2: Measuring a Cows Heart Girth as Part of the Farm Surveys

Aims of the project

The goal of my PhD is to contribute a landscape approach to analysing agricultural systems. On-farm practices are an important part of an agricultural system and are one of the trilogy of components that make-up what Rizzo et al (2022) call ‘agricultural landscape dynamics’ – the other two components being Natural Resources and Landscape Patterns. To understand how a farm interacts with and responds to Natural Resources and Landscape Patterns it seems sensible to try and understand not just each farms inputs and outputs but its overall strategy and component practices. (more…)

Compass student publishes article in Frontiers

Compass student Dan Milner and his academic supervisors have published an article in Frontiers, one of the most cited and largest research publishers in the world. Dan’s work is funded in collaboration with ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute). (more…)

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