We’re all familiar with the term “Artificial Intelligence.” After all, it’s been a popular focus in movies such as The Terminator, The Matrix, and Ex Machina (a personal favorite of mine). But you may have recently been hearing about other terms like “Machine Learning” and “Deep Learning,” sometimes used interchangeably with artificial intelligence. As a result, the difference between artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning can be very unclear.
Both terms crop up very frequently when the topic is Big Data, analytics, and the broader waves of technological change which are sweeping through our world.
Lets start with Artificial Intelligence.
First coined in 1956 by John McCarthy, AI involves machines that can perform tasks that are characteristic of human intelligence. While this is rather general, it includes things like planning, understanding language, recognizing objects and sounds, learning, and problem solving.
We can put AI in two categories, general and narrow. General AI would have all of the characteristics of human intelligence, including the capacities mentioned above. Narrow AI exhibits some facet(s) of human intelligence, and can do that facet extremely well, but is lacking in other areas. A machine that’s great at recognizing images, but nothing else, would be an example of narrow AI.
The Rise of Machine Learning
Two important breakthroughs led to the emergence of Machine Learning as the vehicle which is driving AI development forward with the speed it currently has.
One of these was the realization – credited to Arthur Samuel in 1959 – that rather than teaching computers everything they need to know about the world and how to carry out tasks, it might be possible to teach them to learn for themselves.
The second, more recently, was the emergence of the internet, and the huge increase in the amount of digital information being generated, stored, and made available for analysis.
Once these innovations were in place, engineers realized that rather than teaching computers and machines how to do everything, it would be far more efficient to code them to think like human beings, and then plug them into the internet to give them access to all of the information in the world.
The development of neural networks has been key to teaching computers to think and understand the world in the way we do, while retaining the innate advantages they hold over us such as speed, accuracy and lack of bias.
The Neural Network
A Neural Network is a computer system designed to work by classifying information in the same way a human brain does. It can be taught to recognize, for example, images, and classify them according to elements they contain.
Essentially it works on a system of probability – based on data fed to it, it is able to make statements, decisions or predictions with a degree of certainty. The addition of a feedback loop enables “learning” – by sensing or being told whether its decisions are right or wrong, it modifies the approach it takes in the future.
Machine Learning applications can read text and work out whether the person who wrote it is making a complaint or offering congratulations. They can also listen to a piece of music, decide whether it is likely to make someone happy or sad, and find other pieces of music to match the mood. In some cases, they can even compose their own music expressing the same themes, or which they know is likely to be appreciated by the admirers of the original piece.
These are all possibilities offered by systems based around ML and neural networks. Thanks in no small part to science fiction, the idea has also emerged that we should be able to communicate and interact with electronic devices and digital information, as naturally as we would with another human being. To this end, another field of AI – Natural Language Processing (NLP) – has become a source of hugely exciting innovation in recent years, and one which is heavily reliant on ML.
Artificial Intelligence – and in particular today ML certainly has a lot to offer. With its promise of automating mundane tasks as well as offering creative insight, industries in every sector from banking to healthcare and manufacturing are reaping the benefits. So, it’s important to bear in mind that AI and ML are something else … they are products which are being sold – consistently, and lucratively.
Machine Learning has certainly been seized as an opportunity by marketers. After AI has been around for so long, it’s possible that it started to be seen as something that’s in some way “old hat” even before its potential has ever truly been achieved. There have been a few false starts along the road to the “AI revolution”, and the term Machine Learning certainly gives marketers something new, shiny and, importantly, firmly grounded in the here-and-now, to offer.
The fact that we will eventually develop human-like AI has often been treated as something of an inevitability by technologists. Certainly, today we are closer than ever and we are moving towards that goal with increasing speed. Much of the exciting progress that we have seen in recent years is thanks to the fundamental changes in how we envisage AI working, which have been brought about by ML