Evolution of machine learning

Technology

Evolution of machine learning

“Humans can typically create one or two good models a week; machine learning can create thousands of models a week.”

Thomas H. Davenport, Analytics thought leader
excerpt from The Wall Street Journal

Because of new computing technologies, machine learning today is not like machine learning of the past. It was born from pattern recognition and the theory that computers can learn without being programmed to perform specific tasks; researchers interested in artificial intelligence wanted to see if computers could learn from data. The iterative aspect of machine learning is important because as models are exposed to new data, they are able to independently adapt. They learn from previous computations to produce reliable, repeatable decisions and results. It’s a science that’s not new – but one that has gained fresh momentum.

While many machine learning algorithms have been around for a long time, the ability to automatically apply complex mathematical calculations to big data – over and over, faster and faster – is a recent development. Here are a few widely publicized examples of machine learning applications you may be familiar with:

  • The heavily hyped, self-driving Google car? The essence of machine learning.
  • Online recommendation offers such as those from Amazon and Netflix? Machine learning applications for everyday life.
  • Knowing what customers are saying about you on Twitter? Machine learning combined with linguistic rule creation.
  • Fraud detection? One of the more obvious, important uses in our world today.

Why is machine learning important?

Resurging interest in machine learning is due to the same factors that have made data mining and Bayesian analysis more popular than ever. Things like growing volumes and varieties of available data, computational processing that is cheaper and more powerful, and affordable data storage.

All of these things mean it’s possible to quickly and automatically produce models that can analyze bigger, more complex data and deliver faster, more accurate results – even on a very large scale. And by building precise models, an organization has a better chance of identifying profitable opportunities – or avoiding unknown risks.

What’s required to create good machine learning systems?

  • Data preparation capabilities.
  • Algorithms – basic and advanced.
  • Automation and iterative processes.
  • Scalability.
  • Ensemble modeling.

Who’s using it?

Most industries working with large amounts of data have recognized the value of machine learning technology. By gleaning insights from this data – often in real time – organizations are able to work more efficiently or gain an advantage over competitors.

Financial services

Banks and other businesses in the financial industry use machine learning technology for two key purposes: to identify important insights in data, and prevent fraud. The insights can identify investment opportunities, or help investors know when to trade. Data mining can also identify clients with high-risk profiles, or use cyber surveillance to pinpoint warning signs of fraud.

Government

Government agencies such as public safety and utilities have a particular need for machine learning since they have multiple sources of data that can be mined for insights. Analyzing sensor data, for example, identifies ways to increase efficiency and save money. Machine learning can also help detect fraud and minimize identity theft.

Health care

Machine learning is a fast-growing trend in the health care industry, thanks to the advent of wearable devices and sensors that can use data to assess a patient’s health in real time. The technology can also help medical experts analyze data to identify trends or red flags that may lead to improved diagnoses and treatment.

Retail

Websites recommending items you might like based on previous purchases are using machine learning to analyze your buying history.  Retailers rely on machine learning to capture data, analyze it and use it to personalize a shopping experience, implement a marketing campaign, price optimization, merchandise supply planning, and for customer insights.

Oil and gas

Finding new energy sources. Analyzing minerals in the ground. Predicting refinery sensor failure. Streamlining oil distribution to make it more efficient and cost-effective. The number of machine learning use cases for this industry is vast – and still expanding.

Transportation

Analyzing data to identify patterns and trends is key to the transportation industry, which relies on making routes more efficient and predicting potential problems to increase profitability. The data analysis and modeling aspects of machine learning are important tools to delivery companies, public transportation and other transportation organizations.

What are some popular machine learning methods?

Two of the most widely adopted machine learning methods are supervised learning and unsupervised learning – but there are also other methods of machine learning. Here’s an overview of the most popular types.

Supervised learning algorithms are trained using labeled examples, such as an input where the desired output is known. For example, a piece of equipment could have data points labeled either “F” (failed) or “R” (runs). The learning algorithm receives a set of inputs along with the corresponding correct outputs, and the algorithm learns by comparing its actual output with correct outputs to find errors. It then modifies the model accordingly. Through methods like classification, regression, prediction and gradient boosting, supervised learning uses patterns to predict the values of the label on additional unlabeled data. Supervised learning is commonly used in applications where historical data predicts likely future events. For example, it can anticipate when credit card transactions are likely to be fraudulent or which insurance customer is likely to file a claim.

Unsupervised learning is used against data that has no historical labels. The system is not told the “right answer.” The algorithm must figure out what is being shown. The goal is to explore the data and find some structure within. Unsupervised learning works well on transactional data. For example, it can identify segments of customers with similar attributes who can then be treated similarly in marketing campaigns. Or it can find the main attributes that separate customer segments from each other. Popular techniques include self-organizing maps, nearest-neighbor mapping, k-means clustering and singular value decomposition. These algorithms are also used to segment text topics, recommend items and identify data outliers.

Semisupervised learning is used for the same applications as supervised learning. But it uses both labeled and unlabeled data for training – typically a small amount of labeled data with a large amount of unlabeled data (because unlabeled data is less expensive and takes less effort to acquire). This type of learning can be used with methods such as classification, regression and prediction. Semisupervised learning is useful when the cost associated with labeling is too high to allow for a fully labeled training process. Early examples of this include identifying a person’s face on a web cam.

Reinforcement learning is often used for robotics, gaming and navigation. With reinforcement learning, the algorithm discovers through trial and error which actions yield the greatest rewards. This type of learning has three primary components: the agent (the learner or decision maker), the environment (everything the agent interacts with) and actions (what the agent can do). The objective is for the agent to choose actions that maximize the expected reward over a given amount of time. The agent will reach the goal much faster by following a good policy. So the goal in reinforcement learning is to learn the best policy.

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