Machine learning (ML), a fundamental concept of AI research since the field’s inception, is the study of computer algorithms that improve automatically through experience.
Unsupervised learning finds patterns in a stream of input. Supervised learning requires a human to label the input data first, and comes in two main varieties: classification and numerical regression. Classification is used to determine what category something belongs in, the program sees a number of examples of things from several categories and will learn to classify new inputs.
Regression is the attempt to produce a function that describes the relationship between inputs and outputs and predicts how the outputs should change as the inputs change. Both classifiers and regression learners can be viewed as “function approximators” trying to learn an unknown (possibly implicit) function; for example, a spam classifier can be viewed as learning a function that maps from the text of an email to one of two categories, “spam” or “not spam”. In reinforcement learning the agent is rewarded for good responses and punished for bad ones. The agent classifies its responses to form a strategy for operating in its problem space. Transfer learning is when knowledge gained from one problem is applied to a new problem.
Computational learning theory can assess learners by computational complexity, by sample complexity (how much data is required), or by other notions of optimisation.
Machine learning (ML) is the study of computer algorithms that can improve automatically through experience and by the use of data. It is seen as a part of artificial intelligence. Machine learning algorithms build a model based on sample data, known as training data, in order to make predictions or decisions without being explicitly programmed to do so. Machine learning algorithms are used in a wide variety of applications, such as in medicine, email filtering, speech recognition, and computer vision, where it is difficult or unfeasible to develop conventional algorithms to perform the needed tasks.
A subset of machine learning is closely related to computational statistics, which focuses on making predictions using computers; but not all machine learning is statistical learning. The study of mathematical optimisation delivers methods, theory and application domains to the field of machine learning. Data mining is a related field of study, focusing on exploratory data analysis through unsupervised learning. Some implementations of machine learning use data and neural networks in a way that mimics the working of a biological brain. In its application across business problems, machine learning is also referred to as predictive analytics.
Learning algorithms work on the basis that strategies, algorithms, and inferences that worked well in the past are likely to continue working well in the future. These inferences can be obvious, such as “since the sun rose every morning for the last 10,000 days, it will probably rise tomorrow morning as well”. They can be nuanced, such as “X% of families have geographically separate species with color variants, so there is a Y% chance that undiscovered black swans exist”.
Machine learning programs can perform tasks without being explicitly programmed to do so. It involves computers learning from data provided so that they carry out certain tasks. For simple tasks assigned to computers, it is possible to program algorithms telling the machine how to execute all steps required to solve the problem at hand; on the computer’s part, no learning is needed. For more advanced tasks, it can be challenging for a human to manually create the needed algorithms. In practice, it can turn out to be more effective to help the machine develop its own algorithm, rather than having human programmers specify every needed step.
The discipline of machine learning employs various approaches to teach computers to accomplish tasks where no fully satisfactory algorithm is available. In cases where vast numbers of potential answers exist, one approach is to label some of the correct answers as valid. This can then be used as training data for the computer to improve the algorithm(s) it uses to determine correct answers. For example, to train a system for the task of digital character recognition, the MNIST dataset of handwritten digits has often been used.
Modern day machine learning has two objectives, one is to classify data based on models which have been developed, the other purpose is to make predictions for future outcomes based on these models. A hypothetical algorithm specific to classifying data may use computer vision of moles coupled with supervised learning in order to train it to classify the cancerous moles. Where as, a machine learning algorithm for stock trading may inform the trader of future potential predictions.
As a scientific endeavour, machine learning grew out of the quest for artificial intelligence. In the early days of AI as an academic discipline, some researchers were interested in having machines learn from data. They attempted to approach the problem with various symbolic methods, as well as what was then termed “neural networks”; these were mostly perceptrons and other models that were later found to be reinventions of the generalised linear models of statistics. Probabilistic reasoning was also employed, especially in automated medical diagnosis.
However, an increasing emphasis on the logical, knowledge-based approach caused a rift between AI and machine learning. Probabilistic systems were plagued by theoretical and practical problems of data acquisition and representation. By 1980, expert systems had come to dominate AI, and statistics was out of favor. Work on symbolic/knowledge-based learning did continue within AI, leading to inductive logic programming, but the more statistical line of research was now outside the field of AI proper, in pattern recognition and information retrieval. Neural networks research had been abandoned by AI and computer science around the same time.
Machine learning (ML), reorganised as a separate field, started to flourish in the 1990s. The field changed its goal from achieving artificial intelligence to tackling solvable problems of a practical nature. It shifted focus away from the symbolic approaches it had inherited from AI, and toward methods and models borrowed from statistics and probability theory.
The difference between ML and AI is frequently misunderstood. ML learns and predicts based on passive observations, whereas AI implies an agent interacting with the environment to learn and take actions that maximise its chance of successfully achieving its goals.
As of 2020, many sources continue to assert that ML remains a subfield of AI. Others have the view that not all ML is part of AI, but only an ‘intelligent subset’ of ML should be considered AI.
A core objective of a learner is to generalise from its experience. Generalisation in this context is the ability of a learning machine to perform accurately on new, unseen examples/tasks after having experienced a learning data set. The training examples come from some generally unknown probability distribution (considered representative of the space of occurrences) and the learner has to build a general model about this space that enables it to produce sufficiently accurate predictions in new cases.
The computational analysis of machine learning algorithms and their performance is a branch of theoretical computer science known as computational learning theory. Because training sets are finite and the future is uncertain, learning theory usually does not yield guarantees of the performance of algorithms. Instead, probabilistic bounds on the performance are quite common. The bias–variance decomposition is one way to quantify generalisation error.
For the best performance in the context of generalisation, the complexity of the hypothesis should match the complexity of the function underlying the data. If the hypothesis is less complex than the function, then the model has under fitted the data. If the complexity of the model is increased in response, then the training error decreases. But if the hypothesis is too complex, then the model is subject to overfitting and generalisation will be poorer.
In addition to performance bounds, learning theorists study the time complexity and feasibility of learning. In computational learning theory, a computation is considered feasible if it can be done in polynomial time. There are two kinds of time complexity results: Positive results show that a certain class of functions can be learned in polynomial time. Negative results show that certain classes cannot be learned in polynomial time.
Machine learning approaches are traditionally divided into three broad categories, depending on the nature of the “signal” or “feedback” available to the learning system:
Performing machine learning involves creating a model, which is trained on some training data and then can process additional data to make predictions. Various types of models have been used and researched for machine learning systems.