What is Image Classification: Applications, Techniques & Tools for Enhanced Data Extraction

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What is Image Classification: Applications, Techniques & Tools for Enhanced Data Extraction

Data extraction involves retrieving information from various sources, often characterized by poor organization or lack of structure. In finance, retail, manufacturing, and logistics, extracting numerical and textual data from documents is routine. Documents such as invoices, statements, receipts, and product images contain essential information for day-to-day operations.

Image classification plays a central role in this process through the analysis of visual data and categorization of images. The accuracy of data extraction is dependent on precise image classification. 

So, what is image classification, and how does it work? In this article, we'll explore image classification tools, techniques, challenges, and how they enhance data extraction.  

What is Image Classification?

Image classification uses machine learning to learn from labeled training data. It categorizes images into predefined listings based on their visual content. It involves categorizing and assigning labels to groups of pixels or vectors within the image based on specific rules.

The goal is to examine an input image and provide a label that categorizes it. The label is always chosen from a predetermined set of categories the image could represent. 

Consider this image of an invoice for a simple explanation of how image classification using machine learning works. The set of possible categories includes: 

The classification system can assign various labels to the image based on the probability, such as invoice: 94%, bank statement: 5%, and contract: 1%.

Image classification is the first step for recognizing document types and extracting numbers. For instance, in the case of automated scanning of invoices, receipts, bank statements, or forms, image classification algorithms categorize documents based on their type. 

Once categorized, the algorithms can identify and extract relevant numerical values such as amounts, dates, quantities, and other key information that is relevant to the document. Overall, this automated data capture from documents speeds up processes like data entry, financial analysis, and record-keeping while reducing time and the risk of errors that come from manual processes.

Key Image Classification Techniques

Image classification applications rely on various techniques. Before discussing the individual techniques, it’s essential to understand the three types of training used to ‘teach’ the classification models how to interpret data. These include supervised, unsupervised, and semi-supervised learning.

Supervised learning uses labeled data, like tagging pictures of cats and dogs. Unsupervised learning works with unlabeled data, letting the model find patterns on its own. Semi-supervised learning combines both for a more efficient training process. 

It utilizes a small amount of labeled data with a large amount of unlabeled data. This combined technique can improve model performance. Based on the training methods, here are some of the image classification techniques: 

1. Deep Learning 

Deep learning is a subset of machine learning that can be used effectively with unstructured data. It uses neural networks with multiple layers to extract features from input data. These deep neural networks generally comprise three or more layers for feature extraction. 

The networks are trained on vast datasets. Deep learning analyzes raw data, identifies patterns, and makes predictions. This is why techniques like CNNs are so powerful for image recognition.

2. Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) 

CNNs are a type of deep learning model. They can process structured grid data, like the ones found in images. CNNs consist of multiple layers, namely, convolutional layers, fully connected layers, and pooling layers. They extract hierarchical features from input images. 

3. Support Vector Machines (SVM)

Support Vector Machines (SVM) are widely used in learning algorithms. These supervised algorithms can effectively classify images. The algorithm identifies the hyperplane that most effectively splits the provided data into distinct categories. 

For example, when classifying an image of a rock from a ball, the SVM would generate a line that differentiates the two. It finds the hyperplane, distinguishing objects with the widest possible margin. SVM works well for image classification, mainly when dealing with high-dimensional data.

4. K-Nearest Neighbors (KNN)

K-Nearest Neighbors (KNN) is a simple and unsupervised machine-learning algorithm. It can classify an input image based on the majority class of its nearest neighbors in space. That is, KNN behaves like an independent thinker and makes decisions based on its observations of the neighboring points. 

The cluster it finally generates helps identify patterns and gain insights into the data. KNN is easy to implement and is effective for small to medium-sized image classification tasks.

5. Decision Trees and Random Forests

Decision Trees and Random Forests are popular machine-learning algorithms. They can perform a wide range of classification tasks. Decision Trees repeatedly split the data space into smaller regions based on the input feature values. 

It works like a flow chart to help you make a decision. Random forests are an extension of decision trees. They combine multiple decision trees to improve classification accuracy. 

How Image Classification Enhances Data Extraction

Integrating image classification into data extraction processes boosts the accuracy and speed of data processing. As a first step, image classification simplifies and automates the sorting of large image datasets. It provides several benefits, such as: 

1. Automation of Manual Processes

Image classification applications simplify the process of organizing and categorizing images. This automated process leads to efficiency gains and improved accuracy by minimizing mistakes. Automating manual sorting procedures allows companies to redirect human resources to better tasks. This can enhance productivity and efficiency.

Consider the sheer number of documents financial institutions have to process, for example. Processing loan applications in banks involves analyzing a large number of documents. This includes bank statements, identification documents, pay stubs, and more. 

Employees used to review and categorize these documents manually. This was both time-consuming and prone to errors. By implementing image classification algorithms, the banks can streamline document classification and extract relevant information from these documents.

2. Increased Accuracy

Highly accurate data extraction relies on robust image classification techniques. By precisely categorizing images, the algorithms ensure subsequent processes can perform their tasks effectively and contribute to precise data extraction. 

This is especially the case when companies review hundreds or thousands of images quickly, a process that is prone to errors caused by human oversight. 

3. Scalability

Image classification helps large image datasets to be processed efficiently, making it possible to scale applications to meet the data demands of growing companies. Whether dealing with hundreds or thousands of images, image classification algorithms can easily handle the workload. 

For instance, in e-commerce companies, managing product catalogues involves processing images from manufacturers and suppliers. These images often contain crucial data points that go into essential product information on the website. With image classification and automated document processing, companies can effectively handle various data types to enrich their catalogues. 

Furthermore, as the dataset grows, image classification algorithms can be trained further to improve accuracy and performance, thus ensuring scalability without compromising results.

4. Real-time Processing

Real-time image classification using machine learning is a handy tool. It can significantly assist in quick decision-making across different industries. Whether it's identifying objects in video streams for security, processing images from surveillance cameras, or analyzing medical images during diagnosis, real-time image classification can provide precious insights quickly. 

Consider a manufacturing plant, for example. Real-time image processing of materials and finished products in the assembly can greatly enhance the quality control process. Traditionally, quality control inspectors manually inspected products on the assembly line.  

This process was time-consuming and prone to human error. Automation with real-time image classification capability has streamlined it across production. 

5. Enhanced Data Analytics

Image classification plays a role in enhancing data analytics by accurately organizing and categorizing visual data. It enables valuable insights for decision-making and problem-solving with highly reliable data. Image classification allows businesses to extract meaningful information from large image datasets. This can uncover hidden patterns and trends. 

Consider a loan application process in a financial institution. Analyzing loan application documents is crucial. This helps the institution assess risk and make informed lending decisions. Image classification allows lending institutions to extract necessary numerical data of individuals. 

For example, their income, expenses, and credit scores from documents such as bank statements, pay stubs, and tax returns. This data can then evaluate an applicant's financial health before accepting or rejecting their loan application.

Image Classification Tools and Software

Image Classification Tools and Software

Here are some popular free and paid tools with built-in image classification capabilities.

1. TensorFlow and Keras (Free)

TensorFlow is an open-source end-to-end machine learning framework. It provides robust support for image classification tasks. The flexible ecosystem of TensorFlow includes advanced features. For example, APIs like Keras simplify the machine learning (ML) process for image classification. Developers can easily create and deploy image classification while utilizing pre-trained models.

Tensorflow Advantages

  • It is scalable to mobile and other complex devices.
  • Tensorflow has superior data visualization to all the other available libraries.
  • Compatible with several programming languages such as C++, JavaScript, and Python.
  • Tensorflow is backed by Google and updated frequently. 

Tensorflow Disadvantages

  • Tensorflow has limited support for Windows, unlike Linux.
  • It is slower compared to other competing frameworks.
  • Tensorflow has limited support for GPU and only has NVIDIA and Python.

Keras Advantages

  • Keras is simple and has a user-friendly API that allows anyone to start with deep learning.
  • Keras runs on top of TensorFlow, Microsoft CNTK, and Theano and supports the use of backends.
  • It has a large and supportive community.
  • Keras features numerous pre-trained models that help the users simplify their tasks.

Keras Disadvantages

  • Keras doesn’t feature the creation of dynamic charts.
  • Debugging is a challenge in Keras as it’s not very helpful in detecting the root causes of errors.
  • Keras cannot perform low-level computations. 

2. PyTorch (Free) 

PyTorch is another popular open-source machine-learning framework beneficial for image classification tasks. It is known for its dynamic computational graph and intuitive interface. It is popular among researchers and developers for its flexibility and ease of use. 

It provides a wide range of pre-trained models and allows users to experiment with different architectures.

Advantages

  • It’s simple to code and easy to learn for beginners.
  • PyTorch features extensive APIs to expand its libraries further.
  • Data parallelism supports both GPU and CPU.
  • It’s easy to debug with Python’s IDE.

Disadvantages

  • PyTorch lacks monitoring and visualization tools.
  • It lacks an extensive supportive community as it was released in 2016.

3. OpenCV (Free) 

OpenCV is a widely used open-source computer vision and machine learning library. This pre-trained model is usually scaled up and instrumental for a variety of image processing tasks that include image classification as well. 

Its core capabilities include supporting feature extraction, object detection, image classification, image reading, and filtering. Thus, it is a well-rounded tool for many different computer vision problems.

Advantages

  • Offers a vast collection of tools and functions for computer vision and image processing tasks.
  • Compatible with multiple platforms and allows application development across different operating systems.
  • OpenCV is optimized for speed with multi-core processing and GPU acceleration.
  • A vast and active community supports OpenCV.

Disadvantages

  • Complex API presents a steep learning curve for beginners.
  • Limited support for Deep learning.
  • Limited high-level functions with a focus mostly on low-level image processing tasks.

4. MATLAB (Paid) 

MATLAB is one of the most well-known programming languages. The commercial software by MathWorks makes image processing and analysis tasks, including image classification, possible. Its built-in functions and toolboxes are designed for image classification tasks. 

Advantages

  • Features an extensive toolset for various scientific and engineering applications.
  • Well supported on all operating systems.
  • Features an extensive library of predefined functions.
  • Device-independent plotting allows it to be a visualization tool on any graphical output device.

Disadvantages

  • Licenses can be expensive for commercial use.
  • It has limited access to its source and customization as a proprietary software.
  • It is less suitable than other competing frameworks for high computational performance.

5. Scikit-Learn (Free) 

Scikit-Learn is a well-known Python library for machine learning. Although it wasn't built specifically for images, it can still perform image classification tasks, especially when paired with other Python libraries.

Advantages

  • It is free to use and features a versatile library for common applications.
  • Backed by a strong community of contributors.
  • Users can benefit from extensive API documentation to integrate algorithms with their platforms.

Disadvantages

  • A limited set of algorithms makes it unsuitable for highly customized models.
  • Lacks extensive support for deep learning.
  • Limited performance when working with large data sets and complex models. 

Real-World Image Classification Applications 

There are numerous image classification applications across different industries. Here are some of the most prominent ones: 

1. Healthcare 

Image classification is used in diagnostics to discover conditions from a range of medical images such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans. It acts as a tool for doctors to help in the early detection of ailments. Beyond detection, it is also useful for treatment planning and disease monitoring. 

2. Autonomous Vehicles 

Self-driving cars rely on super-fast camera analysis. They "see" the world around them by identifying objects like cars, people, signs, and lanes to navigate safely and avoid accidents. Image classification also plays a pivotal role when different lighting conditions make obstacle avoidance a challenge.

3. Agricultural Monitoring 

In the agriculture sector, the image classification method has many uses, including crop monitoring, disease detection, yield estimation, and others. Through remote sensing using drone or satellite technology, the image classification apps direct the farmers to recognize plant health issues, optimize irrigation, and increase crop yield.

4. Retail 

Retail stores use cameras that can identify products via image classification. This helps them stock shelves, target ads to the right customers, and make shopping easier. Image classification also plays a major role in self-checkout systems. 

It accurately identifies and categorizes objects scanned by customers to avoid mistakes or theft. Image classification also enables personalized recommendations of products by analyzing customer behaviour and preferences.

5. Security and Surveillance 

Image classification plays a key role in making security cameras smarter. They can now recognize faces, objects, and even unusual activity, helping keep people safe in businesses and public areas.

Overcoming Challenges in Image Classification

Challenges in Image Classification 

Image classification presents unique challenges. In this section, we delve into the most commonly encountered obstacles and provide strategies to overcome them. 

1. Data Quality and Quantity 

Challenges with data quality and quantity often arise in image classification using machine learning. Incomplete data, inaccurate data, duplicate records, inconsistent data formats, data integration problems, etc., are common challenges. These challenges in image classification can arise from blurry images, mislabeled data and low-resolution images, variable lighting conditions, and occlusions.  Steps to overcome these include: 

  • Establishing guidelines for data quality and standards.
  • Ensuring data quality through preprocessing in the form of noise reduction, data augmentation, and normalization.
  • Working with a diverse dataset that covers a wide range of scenarios and variations.
  • Improving data integration process.

2. Algorithm Bias 

Algorithm bias can lead to unfair or inaccurate predictions. Especially when the training data does not represent the entire population. It can have wide-ranging implications leading to erroneous results. To address algorithmic bias, you can: 

  • Ensure the training data is diverse and representative of all possible data points. 
  • Regularly audit the testing models for fairness 
  • Identify potential sources of bias through interpretable models.
  • Set up feedback loops for users to offer feedback on biased predictions
  • Establish strong ethical guidelines 

3. Computational Resources 

Training complex image classification applications requires significant computational resources in the form of high-performance CPUs and GPUs. It also requires quite a lot of energy, all of which comes at a high cost. Some of the ways to overcome this challenge are to: 

  • Use cloud-based services or distributed computing platforms to scale computational resources when needed.
  • Optimize model architecture to reduce computational demands.
  • Use pre-trained models and transfer learning to reduce training time and resource requirements.

4. Model Complexity and Generalization

Complex models can struggle with new data because they often overfit. Overfitting occurs when the machine learning model learns training data too closely. It’s an undesirable behavior that can also capture noise and random fluctuations in data. This leads to a lack of generalization when applied to new and unseen data.

To overcome this challenge, you can: 

  • Regularize models by introducing penalties for loss of function because of complexity.
  • Evaluate models on a separate validation dataset to assess generalization performance.
  • Use techniques such as model ensembling and cross-validation to improve model generalization.
  • Monitor the validation error and use early stopping when errors increase. 

5. Integration With Existing Systems 

Integrating image classification models into existing systems and workflows can become complex and challenging. Managing data flow requires meticulous planning and coordination throughout data preprocessing, model deployment, and monitoring. Furthermore, infrastructure compatibility with existing software, frameworks, and data formats presents another significant challenge. To overcome these challenges: 

  • Assess current systems for ML integration capability 
  • Use standardized APIs and middleware to simplify model integration.
  • Containerize models using platforms like Docker for easy deployment and scalability.
  • Ensure IT and engineering teams possess skill and readiness for seamless integration with existing systems.

Conclusion: Future of Image Classification in Data Extraction 

The future of image classification in data extraction promises advancements in classification models in terms of classification accuracy, efficiency, and interpretability. 

Progress in deep learning and computer vision will enable algorithms to handle different data sets and complex tasks. Image classification systems will further benefit by integration with other data extraction techniques, such as image segmentation and object detection. 

Implementing explainable AI techniques will also make these systems more transparent and easier to understand. The explainability will boost trust in the models and lead to better decision-making.

Finally, adopting advanced image classification is an essential part of your automation to stay competitive. By allowing the algorithms to take over the drudgery of manual document analysis and processing, you can focus your efforts on tasks of higher value.

Docsumo offers an end-to-end document AI solution for data extraction, which includes powerful image classification capabilities. By leveraging Docsumo, organizations can streamline data extraction, improve accuracy, and drive productivity. 

Contact us to learn more about automating your document data extraction workflow.  

Additional FAQs: Image Classification

1. How can businesses start using image classification for better data extraction?

To begin using image classification for improved data extraction, businesses should first identify the kind of data they need and whether the images are structured or unstructured. Then, they can research and select suitable image classification tools. 

2. What are the main differences between manual image processing and automated image classification?

Manual image processing relies on human effort and experience for tasks like sorting and labeling images. Automated image classification uses AI algorithms to perform these tasks at a much faster speed and at a scale humans can’t reach.  

3. What are some of the emerging trends in image classification technology?

Some emerging trends include deep learning techniques, such as convolutional neural networks (CNNs), transfer learning, and edge computing for real-time processing. 

Suggested Case Study
Automating Portfolio Management for Westland Real Estate Group
The portfolio includes 14,000 units across all divisions across Los Angeles County, Orange County, and Inland Empire.
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Written by
Ritu John

Ritu is a seasoned writer and digital content creator with a passion for exploring the intersection of innovation and human experience. As a writer, her work spans various domains, making content relatable and understandable for a wide audience.

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