# Symbolic regression

Symbolic regression (SR) is a type of regression analysis that searches the space of mathematical expressions to find the model that best fits a given dataset, both in terms of accuracy and simplicity.

No particular model is provided as a starting point to the algorithm. Instead, initial expressions are formed by randomly combining mathematical building blocks such as mathematical operators, analytic functions, constants, and state variables. Usually, a subset of these primitives will be specified by the person operating it, but that's not a requirement of the technique. The symbolic regression problem for mathematical functions has been tackled with a variety of methods, including recombining equations most commonly using genetic programming, as well as more recently methods utilizing Bayesian methods and physics-inspired AI. Another non-classical alternative method to SR is called Universal Functions Originator (UFO), which has a different mechanism, search-space, and building strategy. Further methods such as Exact Learning attempt to transform the fitting problem into a moments problem in a natural function space, usually built around generalisations of the Meijer-G function.

By not requiring a priori specification of a model, symbolic regression isn't affected by human bias, or unknown gaps in domain knowledge. It attempts to uncover the intrinsic relationships of the dataset, by letting the patterns in the data itself reveal the appropriate models, rather than imposing a model structure that is deemed mathematically tractable from a human perspective. The fitness function that drives the evolution of the models takes into account not only error metrics (to ensure the models accurately predict the data), but also special complexity measures, thus ensuring that the resulting models reveal the data's underlying structure in a way that's understandable from a human perspective. This facilitates reasoning and favors the odds of getting insights about the data-generating system.

## Difference from classical regression

While conventional regression techniques seek to optimize the parameters for a pre-specified model structure, symbolic regression avoids imposing prior assumptions, and instead infers the model from the data. In other words, it attempts to discover both model structures and model parameters.

This approach has the disadvantage of having a much larger space to search, because not only the search space in symbolic regression is infinite, but there are an infinite number of models which will perfectly fit a finite data set (provided that the model complexity isn't artificially limited). This means that it will possibly take a symbolic regression algorithm longer to find an appropriate model and parametrization, than traditional regression techniques. This can be attenuated by limiting the set of building blocks provided to the algorithm, based on existing knowledge of the system that produced the data; but in the end, using symbolic regression is a decision that has to be balanced with how much is known about the underlying system.

Nevertheless, this characteristic of symbolic regression also has advantages: because the evolutionary algorithm requires diversity in order to effectively explore the search space, the result is likely to be a selection of high-scoring models (and their corresponding set of parameters). Examining this collection could provide better insight into the underlying process, and allows the user to identify an approximation that better fits their needs in terms of accuracy and simplicity.