Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are two extremely popular and overused buzzwords at the moment; and they both are often used interchangeably. Although they aren't the same thing, popular perception believes they are the same. This piece is our attempt to explain the difference.
To begin with, both terms are frequently used when we refer to topics such as big data and analytics. To make it simple and short:
Artificial Intelligence is the broader concept of machines being able to carry out tasks in a way that we would consider “smart”.
Machine Learning is a current application of AI based around the idea that we should really just be able to give machines access to data and let them learn for themselves.
Artificial Intelligence exists since long time – in Greek mythology, we've heard stories of mechanical men who mimic human behavior. The early European computers were conceived as “logical machines” that could solve basic arithmetic problem and store data; engineers believed that they successfully created mechanical brains.
As technology, and, importantly, our understanding of how our minds work, has progressed, our concept of what constitutes AI has changed. Rather than increasingly complex calculations, work in the field of AI concentrated on mimicking human decision making processes and carrying out tasks in ever more human ways.
To summarize, Artificial Intelligence devices are designed to act intelligently and fit in to one of the two groups – applied or general. Applied AI is far more common; for instance systems designed to intelligently trade stocks and shares and so on fall into this category. Generalized AI is less common; for instance systems or devices which can in theory handle any task fall into this category. And there's no prize for guessing that most exciting advancements are happening in the later space today. But what's interesting is - this is also the area that has led to the development of Machine Learning. And hence it's often referred to as a subset of AI.
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.
Neural networks trains 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. 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.
NLP applications attempt to understand natural human communication, either written or spoken, and communicate in return with us using similar, natural language. ML is used here to help machines understand the vast nuances in human language, and to learn to respond in a way that a particular audience is likely to comprehend.
A Case Of Branding?
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. We hope this piece has helped a few people understand the distinction between AI and ML.