What is machine learning?

Blog Author: Aaron Smith | September 10th, 2015

Although you may not realise it each of us is touched by machine learning each and every day, but few appreciate what it is all about. If you start to consider the volumes and volumes of data that we are producing every day in everything we do, the issue becomes how to gain advantage from all that information. This is where machine learning comes in. It uses big data to look for trends, analyse correlations and then make predictions.

Ever been shopping online when a purchase suggestion pops up? How did they know you wanted that? That is machine learning in the background, examining what products you browse through, linger on and purchase. Based on this information, it then provides the most likely match that it believes you are most likely to purchase. Think of it like all those treats that you find at the check out at a supermarket. The big different here however is those treats are individually customised for each person.

If you travel on public transport and use something like the Opal card to make payments, the information about your travel habits is aggregated with other travellers to gain insight into the efficiency of the public transport system. It becomes much easier to see where bottle necks occur and what the underlying trends are. However, if you take all that information and run it through test scenarios, like heavy rain, you can predict what the effect might be and you can start planning for them. The aim to provide a more efficient service for all commuters.

We are fast approaching a world where automation is changing the lives of every person. Automated tasks, or software bots, can run in the background, 24/7 to ensure everything is working optimally. 

Machine learning is starting to come to fore due to the massive processing power available thanks to the cloud, along with big data collection. The amount of data collected every day is only going to increase as well. Welcome the dawn of the age of the Internet of Things where almost everything you can think of will be connected together and spewing data about everything.

Is machine learning artificial intelligence? Technically no, its decisions are based on previous trends and based on algorithms and decision trees, but it is certainly another step closer to a machine that can ‘think’ like a person. As they say in the classics, you ain’t seen anything yet!

Image courtesy of ponsulak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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