Feature Extraction: Extensive Guide & 3 How To Tutorials [Python, CNN, BERT]

by | Nov 4, 2023 | Data Science, Natural Language Processing

What is Feature Extraction in Machine Learning?

Feature extraction is a fundamental concept in data analysis and machine learning, serving as a crucial step in the process of transforming raw data into a format that is more suitable for analysis or modelling. Features, also known as variables or attributes, are the specific characteristics or properties of data points that we use to make predictions, classify objects, or gain insights from the data.

In essence, feature extraction involves selecting, transforming, or creating these features in a way that enhances the quality and relevance of the data for a given task.

What is it used for?

It’s an indispensable technique for various reasons:

  • Dimensionality Reduction: In many datasets, there can be many features, which can lead to a phenomenon known as the curse of dimensionality. High-dimensional data can be challenging and may lead to overfitting in machine learning models. Feature extraction techniques help reduce the number of dimensions while preserving essential information.
  • Noise Reduction: Raw data often contains noisy or irrelevant information that can hinder the accuracy of models. Feature extraction methods aim to filter out noise and highlight the most meaningful aspects of the data.
  • Interpretability: Simplifying the data through feature extraction can make the analysis more interpretable. It helps us focus on the most significant variables and understand their relationships.
  • Improved Model Performance: Effective feature extraction can enhance model performance by providing a cleaner, more informative input to machine learning algorithms. This is particularly important in tasks like classification, regression, and clustering.

Feature extraction methods come in various forms, ranging from statistical techniques such as Principal Component Analysis (PCA) for reducing dimensionality to domain-specific approaches for extracting relevant information from text, images, or other data types.

A Simple Example of Feature Extraction

Let us start with a simple text-based example of feature extraction using the Bag of Words (BoW) technique.

feature extraction text-based cats and dogs example

Input Text Data: Suppose you have a collection of three short text documents:

  1. “I like cats and dogs.”
  2. “Dogs are great pets.”
  3. “I prefer cats over dogs.”

Step 1: Tokenization

Tokenize the text by breaking it into individual words or tokens. After tokenization, you have a list of words:

Document 1: [“I”, “like”, “cats”, “and”, “dogs.”]
Document 2: [“Dogs”, “are”, “great”, “pets.”]
Document 3: [“I”, “prefer”, “cats”, “over”, “dogs.”]

Step 2: Create a Vocabulary

Create a vocabulary by identifying unique words in the entire collection of documents:

Vocabulary: [“I”, “like”, “cats”, “and”, “dogs”, “are”, “great”, “pets”, “prefer”, “over”]

Step 3: Document-Term Matrix (Feature Extraction)

Build a Document-Term Matrix (DTM) or Bag of Words representation, where each row corresponds to a document, and each column corresponds to a word in the vocabulary. The values in the DTM indicate the frequency of each word in the respective document:

Document 11111200000
Document 20000111100
Document 31010100011

Step 4: Feature Representation

The Document-Term Matrix (DTM) is your feature representation. Each document is now represented as a vector of word frequencies.

For example, Document 1 can be represented as the feature vector [1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0].

These feature vectors can be used in various text analysis tasks, such as text classification, sentiment analysis, or clustering. The BoW technique converts text data into a numerical representation, making it suitable for machine learning algorithms to process and analyze text-based information.

Top 9 Feature Extraction Techniques And Algorithms In Machine Learning

Feature extraction encompasses a diverse set of techniques that can be broadly categorized into methods for dimensionality reduction and strategies for enhancing the quality and relevance of features. Here, we explore some of the most common feature extraction techniques used in various data analysis and machine learning applications:

1. Principal Component Analysis (PCA):

  • Purpose: PCA is a dimensionality reduction technique used to transform a dataset into a new coordinate system where the dimensions, called principal components, are orthogonal and capture the maximum variance in the data.
  • Use Cases: Reducing the dimensionality of high-dimensional datasets while retaining as much information as possible.

2. Linear Discriminant Analysis (LDA):

  • Purpose: LDA is a technique for dimensionality reduction that focuses on maximizing the separability between classes in a classification problem by projecting the data into a lower-dimensional space.
  • Use Cases: Feature extraction for classification tasks where class discrimination is crucial.

3. t-distributed Stochastic Neighbor Embedding (t-SNE):

  • Purpose: t-SNE is primarily used for visualization and feature extraction by reducing the dimensionality of data while preserving the local relationships between data points.
  • Use Cases: Visualizing high-dimensional data, especially in clustering tasks.

4. Feature Scaling and Normalization:

  • Purpose: Scaling and normalizing features ensure that different features have comparable scales, which can be vital for many machine learning algorithms.
  • Use Cases: Pre-processing data to avoid biases in models sensitive to feature scales, such as k-nearest Neighbors and Support Vector Machines.

5. Feature Engineering:

  • Purpose: Feature engineering involves creating new features or transforming existing ones to enhance the information available to a model. This can include mathematical operations, domain-specific knowledge, or interaction terms.
  • Use Cases: Tailoring features to the specific problem and improving model performance.

6. Non-negative Matrix Factorization (NMF):

  • Purpose: NMF factorizes a data matrix into two lower-dimensional matrices, often representing parts and their combinations. It helps find interpretable features.
  • Use Cases: Topic modelling in text data, image segmentation, and signal processing.

7. Independent Component Analysis (ICA):

  • Purpose: ICA separates a multivariate signal into additive, independent components. It is often used for separating mixed signals.
  • Use Cases: Blind source separation in signal processing and some biomedical applications.

8. Wavelet Transform:

  • Purpose: The wavelet transform decomposes data into different frequency components at multiple scales, revealing features across different resolutions.
  • Use Cases: Image and signal processing, feature extraction in time-frequency analysis.

9. Autoencoders:

  • Purpose: Autoencoders are neural network architectures that learn to encode data into a lower-dimensional representation. The encoder part of the network serves as a feature extraction mechanism.
  • Use Cases: General-purpose dimensionality reduction and feature extraction, often used in deep learning.

These common feature extraction techniques provide a toolbox for data scientists and machine learning practitioners to pre-process data effectively, reduce dimensionality, and enhance the quality of features, depending on the specific requirements of their projects. The choice of technique should be guided by the nature of the data and the goals of the analysis or modelling task.

Deep Learning For Feature Extraction

Deep learning feature extraction refers to using pre-trained deep neural networks to automatically extract informative features from raw data, often images, text, or other types of high-dimensional data. Deep learning models, particularly Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) for image data and Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) for sequential data like text, can learn intricate patterns and representations in the data.

Here’s an overview of deep learning feature extraction and its applications:

1. Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) for Image Feature Extraction:

  • In the context of images, CNNs have revolutionized feature extraction by automatically learning hierarchical and spatially relevant features.
  • Deep CNN architectures like VGG, ResNet, and Inception have pre-trained models on large image datasets (e.g., ImageNet) with millions of images. These models can be fine-tuned or used as feature extractors for specific image-related tasks.
  • The last layers of these networks typically contain high-level features that can be used as generic image representations, and these features can be fed into other machine learning models.

2. Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) for Text Feature Extraction:

3. Transfer Learning for Feature Extraction:

  • Transfer learning is a widespread technique in deep learning where a pre-trained model is fine-tuned for a specific task. Feature extraction can be a crucial part of transfer learning.
  • Using pre-trained models as feature extractors, you can leverage the knowledge learned from large and diverse datasets, even if your dataset is small or specific.
  • Fine-tuning the last few layers of a pre-trained model for a new task while keeping the lower layers fixed is a common approach.

Applications of Deep Learning For Feature Extraction

  • Image Classification: Deep learning feature extraction is used in image classification tasks, where extracted features are passed to a classifier to distinguish objects or scenes.
  • Object Detection: Deep learning models extract features to detect and localize objects within images.
  • Text Classification: For tasks like spam detection or sentiment analysis, deep learning feature extraction from text data is essential.
  • Anomaly Detection: Deep features extracted from raw data can help identify anomalies or outliers in various domains, such as fraud detection or quality control.

Deep learning feature extraction is valuable because it allows data scientists and machine learning practitioners to leverage the suggestive power of deep neural networks, even when they have limited data or resources for training models from scratch. By using pre-trained models, you can save time and resources while achieving state-of-the-art performance in various tasks.

Top 10 NLP Feature Extraction Techniques For Text

Feature extraction in Natural Language Processing (NLP) involves converting text data into numerical representations that can be input for machine learning models. NLP feature extraction is essential for a wide range of NLP tasks, such as text classification, sentiment analysis, named entity recognition, and machine translation. Here are some common techniques for NLP feature extraction:

1. Bag of Words (BoW):

  • BoW represents a document as a vector of word frequencies or binary values. It discards the order and structure of the text but captures the presence or absence of specific words.
  • BoW can be extended to include n-grams (sequences of n words) to capture some local context.

2. Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency (TF-IDF):

  • TF-IDF is a numerical statistic that reflects the importance of a word within a document relative to a collection of documents (corpus).
  • It assigns higher scores to words frequent in a document but rare in the corpus.

3. Word Embeddings:

  • Word embeddings represent words as dense, continuous-valued vectors in a fixed-dimensional space. Techniques like Word2Vec, GloVe, and FastText are commonly used.
  • Word embeddings capture semantic relationships between words and can be used to derive vector representations for documents by aggregating word vectors (e.g., averaging or weighted sum).

4. Pre-trained Language Models:

  • Pre-trained language models, such as BERT, GPT-2, and RoBERTa, have become famous for NLP feature extraction.
  • These models provide contextual embeddings that take into account the surrounding words and are capable of capturing complex semantic and syntactic information.

5. Part-of-Speech (POS) Tagging:

  • POS tagging identifies the grammatical category of each word in a sentence, such as noun, verb, adjective, etc. This information can be used as features in various NLP tasks.

6. Named Entity Recognition (NER):

  • NER extracts entities (e.g., names of people, organizations, locations) from text, and the identified entities can be used as features.

7. Sentiment Analysis Features:

  • Features for sentiment analysis often include sentiment lexicons, which provide a list of words and their associated sentiment scores.
  • Features related to negation, intensifiers, and sentiment transitions can also be extracted.

8. Text Representation with Word Frequency or Sequence Length:

  • Basic features, such as the number of words in a document or the frequency of specific words or phrases, can be used as features for specific NLP tasks.

9. Syntax-Based Features:

  • Features derived from the syntactic structure of the text, such as parsing trees or grammatical relations, can be used for tasks involving grammar or syntax analysis.

10. Document Embeddings:

  • Techniques like Doc2Vec can obtain vector representations for entire documents by considering the context of words within the document.

The choice of feature extraction technique in NLP depends on the specific task, dataset, and resources available. It’s common to experiment with different techniques and perform feature engineering to improve the performance of NLP models. Additionally, as NLP research continues to evolve, pre-trained language models have gained popularity for their ability to provide rich contextual embeddings and have significantly improved state of the art in various NLP tasks.

Top 9 Automatic Feature Extraction Techniques

Automatic feature extraction, often called automatic feature engineering or feature learning, is the process of letting machine learning algorithms or models discover and generate relevant features from raw data without manual intervention. This approach is advantageous when dealing with high-dimensional data or complex patterns that are challenging to capture with handcrafted features. Automatic feature extraction methods include:

1. Deep Learning for Feature Learning

Deep neural networks, particularly deep autoencoders and convolutional neural networks (CNNs) can automatically learn features from raw data. Autoencoders learn compact representations by encoding data into a lower-dimensional space and then decoding it back. CNNs learn hierarchical features from images, which can be helpful for various computer vision tasks.

2. Transfer Learning

Transfer learning leverages pre-trained models (e.g., pre-trained deep learning models like BERT ResNet) to extract features from new datasets or domains. Features learned by these models on vast datasets can be fine-tuned for specific tasks.

3. Principal Component Analysis (PCA)

PCA, a dimensionality reduction technique, transforms data into a new coordinate system where the dimensions (principal components) capture the maximum variance. It can be considered an automatic feature extraction method for reducing dimensionality while preserving essential information.

4. Non-Negative Matrix Factorization (NMF)

NMF factorizes a data matrix into two lower-dimensional matrices, representing parts and their combinations. It extracts features that can be interpretable and useful for various applications.

5. Independent Component Analysis (ICA)

ICA separates mixed signals into independent components, which can be used for various applications, including blind source separation in signal processing.

6. Word Embeddings and Language Models

In natural language processing (NLP), word embeddings (e.g., Word2Vec, GloVe) capture semantic relationships between words, allowing models to learn vector representations for words automatically. Pre-trained language models (e.g., BERT, GPT) can learn contextual embeddings and extract features from text data.

7. Evolutionary Algorithms

Evolutionary algorithms, such as genetic programming, can evolve mathematical expressions or combinations of features to optimize a specific objective function.

8. AutoML Platforms

Automated Machine Learning (AutoML) platforms like TPOT and Auto-Sklearn automate the process of feature selection and engineering, using various techniques to identify the most informative features for a given machine learning task.

9. Deep Feature Selection:

Deep feature selection methods use neural networks to rank or select the most relevant features from the input data, optimizing them for a specific task.

Automatic feature extraction can significantly reduce the need for domain expertise and manual feature engineering, making it particularly valuable when large, complex datasets are involved. It allows machine learning models to discover and exploit intricate patterns in data, leading to improved performance in various tasks.

How To Implement Feature Extraction In Python Example

Let’s consider a practical example of feature extraction in the context of image data using the popular CIFAR-10 dataset. The CIFAR-10 dataset consists of 60,000 32×32 colour images in ten different classes, with 6,000 images per class. Here, we’ll perform feature extraction for image classification using Principal Component Analysis (PCA):

Step 1: Data Pre-processing

First, you would load and pre-process the image data. In the case of CIFAR-10, you’d read the images and convert them into a suitable format (e.g., NumPy arrays). You may also normalize the pixel values to ensure they are in the same range (e.g., [0, 1]).

Step 2: Feature Extraction using PCA

Apply Principal Component Analysis to the image data. PCA aims to find the most informative orthogonal directions (principal components) along which the variance in the data is maximized. This effectively reduces the dimensionality of the data.

import numpy as np
from sklearn.decomposition import PCA

# Assuming 'X' is your preprocessed image data
X = X.reshape(X.shape[0], -1)  # Flatten images into 1D arrays

# Specify the number of principal components you want to retain
n_components = 100  # You can choose the number based on your needs

# Apply PCA
pca = PCA(n_components=n_components)
X_pca = pca.fit_transform(X)

After applying PCA, X_pca will contain the image data transformed into a lower-dimensional representation, with each image represented by a reduced set of features. These features are linear combinations of the original pixel values, capturing the most significant variations in the data.

Step 3: Model Training and Evaluation

You can use the reduced feature representation (X_pca) for training machine learning models for image classification. For example, you might use a classifier like a Support Vector Machine (SVM) or a neural network to classify the images into their respective categories.

from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split
from sklearn.svm import SVC
from sklearn.metrics import accuracy_score

# Split the data into training and testing sets
X_train, X_test, y_train, y_test = train_test_split(X_pca, y, test_size=0.2, random_state=42)

# Train a Support Vector Machine (SVM) classifier
svm_classifier = SVC()
svm_classifier.fit(X_train, y_train)

# Make predictions on the test set
y_pred = svm_classifier.predict(X_test)

# Evaluate the model's accuracy
accuracy = accuracy_score(y_test, y_pred)
print(f"Accuracy: {accuracy * 100:.2f}%")

In this example, PCA was used to reduce the dimensionality of image data while preserving the most essential information. The lower-dimensional features obtained through PCA were then used to train a machine learning model for image classification. This is just one instance of feature extraction in action; the same concept can be applied to various data types and tasks.

How To Implement Feature Extraction In BERT

BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is a powerful pre-trained language model developed by Google that can be used for a wide range of natural language processing (NLP) tasks. BERT captures contextual information and relationships between words, making it a valuable tool for feature extraction from text. To extract features from BERT, you can follow these steps:

1. Pre-processing:

Before extracting features from BERT, you need to prepare your text data. Tokenize your text into subwords using the same tokenizer used during BERT pre-training. Most BERT models come with their tokenizers.

2. Use a Pre-trained BERT Model:

Choose a pre-trained BERT model that suits your task. Models like “bert-base-uncased” and “bert-large-uncased” are commonly used for English text.

3. Load the BERT Model:

You can use popular NLP libraries like Hugging Face’s Transformers library in Python to load the pre-trained BERT model. For example:

from transformers import BertModel, BertTokenizer

model_name = "bert-base-uncased"
tokenizer = BertTokenizer.from_pretrained(model_name)
model = BertModel.from_pretrained(model_name)

4. Tokenization:

Tokenize your text data using the BERT tokenizer. This will convert your text into tokens that BERT understands.

text = "Your text goes here."
tokens = tokenizer(text, padding=True, truncation=True, return_tensors="pt")

5. Feature Extraction:

Pass the tokenized input through the BERT model to obtain embeddings or features. The BertModel will return hidden states and, in some cases, pooled representations. For feature extraction, you can often use the hidden states. Here’s an example of how to obtain features from BERT:

with torch.no_grad():
    output = model(**tokens)
    hidden_states = output.last_hidden_state

hidden_states contains the contextual embeddings for each token in the input text. You can extract features by averaging or pooling these embeddings or by selecting specific layers or tokens as needed for your task.

6. Post-processing:

Depending on your specific use case, you may need to post-process the features. For example, you can average or pool the embeddings to get a single vector representation for the entire input text.

7. Feature Use:

You can use the extracted features for various NLP tasks, such as text classification, sentiment analysis, named entity recognition, and more.

Remember that BERT is a deep neural network with multiple layers, and the features obtained from different layers may capture other aspects of the text. Experiment with layers and techniques to extract the most suitable features for your specific NLP task. Additionally, the Hugging Face Transformers library provides convenient interfaces for BERT and other pre-trained models, making feature extraction more accessible.

How To Implement Feature Extraction In CNN

Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) are primarily designed for image processing tasks, but they can also be used for feature extraction from images. CNNs are particularly effective at learning hierarchical and spatially relevant features in images. Here’s how you can perform feature extraction using CNNs:

1. Pre-processing:

Prepare your image data by resizing, normalizing, and pre-processing it. You may use libraries like OpenCV or PIL to load and manipulate the images.

2. Load a Pre-trained CNN Model:

Choose a pre-trained CNN model that suits your feature extraction needs. Common choices include models like VGG, ResNet, Inception, or MobileNet. These models have been trained on large image datasets and can extract informative features from images.

3. Load the Model and Remove Top Layers:

Load the pre-trained CNN model using a deep learning library like TensorFlow or PyTorch. Remove the fully connected layers (the top layers) from the model since you only need the feature extraction part.

For example, if you’re using TensorFlow and the VGG16 model:

from tensorflow.keras.applications import VGG16
from tensorflow.keras.applications.vgg16 import preprocess_input

base_model = VGG16(weights='imagenet', include_top=False)

4. Feature Extraction:

Pass your image data through the CNN model to extract features from one of the intermediate layers. These layers, before the fully connected layers, capture hierarchical and abstract features.

# Assuming 'images' is a list of preprocessed image data
features = []
for image in images:
    image = np.expand_dims(image, axis=0)
    image = preprocess_input(image)
    feature = base_model.predict(image)

5. Post-processing:

Depending on your specific task, you can flatten, average, or pool the extracted features. You can also normalize them to ensure that they are in a consistent range.

6. Feature Use:

The extracted features can be used for various computer vision tasks, such as image classification, object detection, or image similarity analysis.

By using a pre-trained CNN model for feature extraction, you benefit from the model’s ability to learn and capture informative image features automatically. This is especially useful if you have a limited amount of labelled data or want to leverage the knowledge learned from vast image datasets. The choice of the specific CNN architecture and layer for feature extraction depends on your task and the nature of your data. Experiment with different models and layers to find the most suitable features for your application.

Challenges and Considerations

Feature extraction is a fundamental step in data pre-processing and machine learning, but it comes with challenges and considerations. Understanding these challenges is essential for making informed decisions during feature extraction. Here are some common challenges and important considerations:

1. Curse of Dimensionality

High-dimensional data can lead to computational inefficiency, increased memory usage, and difficulties visualizing and interpreting the data. Dimensionality reduction techniques, such as PCA, are often necessary to address this challenge.

2. Data Quality

The quality of the input data directly impacts feature extraction. Noisy or inconsistent data can lead to extracting irrelevant or misleading features. Data pre-processing and cleaning are crucial to mitigate this challenge.

3. Feature Relevance

Identifying which features are relevant to the problem can be challenging. Extracting too many or irrelevant features can lead to overfitting, while missing relevant parts can result in underfitting.

4. Feature Engineering Complexity

Creating and engineering features can be a time-consuming and iterative process. Domain knowledge and creativity are often required to design effective features, making this process more complex.

5. Data Distribution

The distribution of data can impact feature extraction. Some techniques may work better for data with specific distributions, and assumptions about data distributions should be considered.

6. Interpretability vs. Complexity

While complex feature extraction techniques can yield high predictive performance, they might reduce the interpretability of the model. Striking a balance between model complexity and interpretability is essential, depending on the use case.

7. Data Imbalance

In classification tasks, imbalanced class distributions can pose challenges. Feature extraction may need to consider strategies to address data imbalance and prevent model bias.

8. Scaling

Some feature extraction techniques may not scale well with large datasets. Consider the computational resources required for feature extraction when working with big data.

9. Heterogeneous Data

Dealing with heterogeneous data types, such as text, images, and structured data, may require multiple feature extraction techniques and the integration of diverse sources.

10. Cross-Domain Generalization

Features extracted from one domain may not generalize well to another. Be cautious when applying features learned from one context to a different one.

11. Model Dependence

The choice of the machine learning model may influence the effectiveness of feature extraction. Features extracted for one model may not be as informative for another.

12. Computational Resources

Feature extraction, especially with deep learning models, can be computationally expensive. Consider the available hardware and compute resources when selecting feature extraction techniques.

13. Evaluating Feature Impact

Understanding the actual impact of individual features on model performance can be challenging. Techniques like feature importance analysis can help, but they are not always straightforward.

14. Experimentation

Feature extraction is often an iterative process that involves experimentation and fine-tuning. Be prepared to explore multiple techniques and validate their effectiveness.

Addressing these challenges and considering these factors during the feature extraction process is essential to enhance the quality of features and, ultimately, improve the performance and interpretability of machine learning models. Feature extraction is a crucial step in the journey from raw data to actionable insights, and thoughtful consideration of these challenges is vital to its success.


In conclusion, feature extraction is a fundamental step in data pre-processing and machine learning that plays a vital role in enhancing the quality, interpretability, and performance of models. Extracting relevant and informative features from raw data is a critical task that requires careful consideration of various techniques, domain knowledge, and specific challenges. Here’s a summary of key takeaways:

  • Feature extraction is selecting, transforming, or creating relevant features from raw data to improve machine learning models’ efficiency and accuracy.
  • Common feature extraction techniques include dimensionality reduction (e.g., PCA), word embeddings (e.g., Word2Vec), pre-trained language models (e.g., BERT), and CNNs for images.
  • Feature extraction is especially valuable in high-dimensional data, data with complex patterns, and when domain-specific knowledge is leveraged to enhance the feature set.
  • Best practices in feature extraction include understanding the problem domain, data pre-processing, dimensionality reduction, and feature engineering.
  • Challenges in feature extraction include the curse of dimensionality, data quality, feature relevance, and the trade-off between interpretability and complexity.
  • Considerations include data distribution, imbalance, computational resources, and model dependence.
  • Feature extraction is an iterative process that often requires experimentation and validation.

In practice, effective feature extraction improves model performance, model interpretability, and more accurate predictions. It is a crucial component of the broader machine learning pipeline for deriving actionable insights from raw data. By following best practices and considering the challenges and considerations, data scientists and machine learning practitioners can unlock the potential of their data and build more robust and accurate models.

About the Author

Neri Van Otten

Neri Van Otten

Neri Van Otten is the founder of Spot Intelligence, a machine learning engineer with over 12 years of experience specialising in Natural Language Processing (NLP) and deep learning innovation. Dedicated to making your projects succeed.

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