A beginner's guide to machine learning: What it is and is it AI?

If you want to know what machine learning is, where it's applied, and how you could get involved yourself, then this short guide is a must read.
Christopher McFadden
Stock photo: Get to grips with the basics of machine learning.
Stock photo: Get to grips with the basics of machine learning.


  • Machine learning is a rapidly evolving field that is altering our interactions with technology.
  • It is becoming more common every day, from self-driving cars to personalized social media recommendations.
  • Machine learning is fundamentally about using data and algorithms to learn patterns and relationships and making predictions or decisions based on that learning.

If you have absolutely no idea what machine learning is, read on if you want to know how it works and some of the exciting applications of machine learning in fields such as healthcare, finance, and transportation. We'll also dip a little into developing machine-learning skills if you are brave enough to try.

So, without further ado, let's get stuck in.

What is machine learning?

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence that involves developing algorithms and models that can learn from data and then use what they've learned to make predictions or decisions. It aims to make it possible for computers to improve at a task over time without being told how to do so.

In traditional programming, a programmer writes rules or instructions telling the computer how to solve a problem. In machine learning, on the other hand, the computer is fed data and learns to recognize patterns and relationships within that data to make predictions or decisions. This data-driven learning process is called "training" and is a machine learning model.

Machine learning can be classified into supervised, unsupervised, and reinforcement. In supervised learning, the machine learning model is trained on labeled data, meaning the input data is already marked with the correct output. In unsupervised learning, the model is trained on unlabeled data and learns to identify patterns and structures in the data.

In reinforcement learning, the model learns to make decisions by receiving feedback through 'rewards' or 'punishments.'

What are some examples of machine learning?

There are many examples of machine learning applications in use today.

A beginner's guide to machine learning: What it is and is it AI?
What is machine learning?

Some of the most common examples include, but are not limited to:-

  • Image recognition: Machine learning is used to classify images into different categories or objects. For example, image recognition is used in self-driving cars to identify things such as pedestrians, cars, and traffic signs.
  • Natural language processing: Machine learning is used to understand and generate human language. Applications include chatbots, voice assistants, and machine translation.
  • Recommendation systems: Machine learning recommends products or content to users based on their past behavior or preferences. Companies like Amazon and Netflix use this to suggest new products or movies to their users.
  • Fraud detection: Machine learning is used to identify fraudulent transactions or behavior. Banks and credit card companies use this to prevent fraudulent activity.
  • Medical diagnosis: Machine learning is used to help diagnose medical conditions based on patient data. For example, machine learning models have been developed to diagnose cancer, predict patient outcomes, and identify at-risk patients.
  • Predictive maintenance: Machine learning predicts when machinery or equipment will likely fail so that maintenance can be performed before a breakdown occurs. This is used in industries such as manufacturing and transportation.

How does machine learning differ from AI?

In essence, machine learning is a subdiscipline of artificial intelligence. However, machine learning is different in some subtle but important ways.

The latter, AI, refers to any computer system that can perform tasks that typically require human intelligence, such as perception, reasoning, learning, and decision-making. Machine learning, on the other hand, is a subset of AI that teaches algorithms to recognize patterns and relationships in data.

While AI can be achieved through many approaches, including rule-based systems and expert systems, machine learning is a data-driven approach that requires large amounts of data and advanced algorithms to learn and improve automatically over time. In contrast, rule-based systems rely on predefined rules, whereas expert systems rely on domain experts' knowledge.

So, in other words, machine learning is one method for achieving artificial intelligence. It entails training algorithms on data to learn patterns and relationships, whereas AI is a broader field that encompasses a variety of approaches to developing intelligent computer systems.

How does machine learning work?

Machine learning learns patterns and relationships from data by training algorithms. When a machine learning system is "put to work," it generally will involve the following general steps:-

  • Data collection and preparation are the first steps in any machine-learning task. This entails gathering pertinent data, cleaning and formatting it, and dividing it into training and test sets.

  • The next step is choosing an appropriate model to learn from the data. There are many different types of models, such as decision trees, neural networks, and support vector machines, and the model used is determined by the task and the data available.
  • Training the model: After a model has been chosen, it must be trained on the training data. During training, the model adjusts its internal parameters to minimize the difference between its predicted output and true output.
  • After training, the model is evaluated using test data to determine its performance. This ensures that the model generalizes well to new, previously unknown data. More training may be conducted at this point.
  • Model deployment: Once the model has been trained and evaluated, it can be used in production. The model is then integrated into a larger system or application, such as a website or mobile app.
  • Finally, as new data becomes available or the task changes, the model may need to be updated or retrained. This is done to ensure that the model remains effective over time.

Machine learning generally entails using data and algorithms to learn patterns and relationships and making predictions or decisions based on that learning. It is a data-driven approach that enables computer systems to improve their performance on a task continuously.

Is machine learning hard to learn?

Like any new skill you may be intent on learning, the level of difficulty of the process will depend entirely on your existing skillset, work ethic, and knowledge.

Several factors, including your prior knowledge and experience in programming, mathematics, and statistics, will determine the difficulty of learning machine learning. However, learning machine learning, in general, can be difficult, but it is not impossible.

To become proficient in machine learning, you may need to master fundamental mathematical and statistical concepts, such as linear algebra, calculus, probability, and statistics. You'll also need some programming experience, preferably in languages like Python, R, or MATLAB, which are commonly used in machine learning.

You also need to know about the different types of machine learning — supervised, unsupervised, and reinforcement learning, and the different algorithms and techniques used for each kind.

While learning machine learning can be difficult, numerous resources are available to assist you in getting started, such as online courses, textbooks, and tutorials. It is also beneficial to put theory into practice by working on real-world problems and projects and collaborating with other learners and practitioners in the field. You can learn machine learning and develop the skills required to build intelligent systems that learn from data with persistence and effort.

If you want to go down this rabbit hole, there are a few valuable resources you might want to consider exploring.

  • Online courses: Many online courses covering the fundamentals of machine learning are available, including on Coursera, edX, and Udemy. Andrew Ng's Machine Learning course and the Deep Learning Specialization by Andrew Ng on Coursera are two popular courses.
  • Textbooks: Many textbooks covering the fundamentals of machine learning are available, including "The Elements of Statistical Learning" by Trevor Hastie, Robert Tibshirani, and Jerome Friedman, and "Machine Learning: A Probabilistic Perspective" by Kevin Murphy.
  • Tutorials and blogs: Numerous tutorials and blog posts provide practical examples and explanations of machine learning techniques. Towards Data Science, Medium, and KDnuggets are popular websites for tutorials and blogs.
  • There are numerous online communities where you can connect with other machine learning practitioners and seek assistance or advice. Kaggle, Reddit, and Stack Overflow are examples of popular online communities.
  • Machine learning conferences and workshops: Attending machine learning conferences and workshops can be a great way to stay updated on the latest advances in the field and connect with other practitioners. The Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS), the International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML), and the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining are popular.
  • Most machine learning frameworks, such as TensorFlow, PyTorch, and sci-kit-learn, have extensive online documentation covering the library's basics and providing examples and tutorials to get you started.

Your learning style and learning objectives for machine learning will determine your best resource.

And that is your lot for today.

Machine learning is a powerful technology with the potential to transform how we live and work. We can build systems that can make predictions, recognize images, translate languages, and do other things by using data and algorithms to learn patterns and relationships. As machine learning advances, new and innovative medical, finance, and transportation applications will emerge.

However, great power comes with great responsibility, and it's critical to think about the ethical implications of developing and deploying machine learning systems. As machine learning evolves, we must ensure that these systems are transparent, fair, and accountable and do not perpetuate bias or discrimination.

By collaborating to address these issues, we can harness the power of machine learning to make the world a better place for everyone.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board