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Within the last decade, the terms artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have become buzzwords that are often used interchangeably. While AI and ML are inextricably linked and share similar characteristics, they are not the same thing. Rather, ML is a major subset of AI.
AI and ML technologies are all around us, from the digital voice assistants in our living rooms to the recommendations you see on Netflix.
Despite AI and ML penetrating several human domains, there’s still much confusion and ambiguity regarding their similarities, differences and primary applications.
Here’s a more in-depth look into artificial intelligence vs. machine learning, the different types, and how the two revolutionary technologies compare to one another.
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AI is defined as computer technology that imitate(s) a human’s ability to solve problems and make connections based on insight, understanding and intuition.
The field of AI rose to prominence in the 1950s. However, mentions of artificial beings with intelligence can be identified earlier throughout various disciplines like ancient philosophy, Greek mythology and fiction stories.
One notable project in the 20th century, the Turing Test, is often referred to when referencing AI’ history. Alan Turing, also referred to as “the father of AI,” created the test and is best known for creating a code-breaking computer that helped the Allies in World War II understand secret messages being sent by the German military.
The Turing Test, is used to determine if a machine is capable of thinking like a human being. A computer can only pass the Turing Test if it responds to questions with answers that are indistinguishable from human responses.
Three key capabilities of a computer system powered by AI include intentionality, intelligence and adaptability. AI systems use mathematics and logic to accomplish tasks, often encompassing large amounts of data, that otherwise wouldn’t be practical or possible.
Modern AI is used by many technology companies and their customers. Some of the most common AI applications today include:
One example of AI that stole the spotlight was in 2011, when IBM’s Watson, an AI-powered supercomputer, participated on the popular TV game show Jeopardy! Watson shook the tech industry to its core after beating two former champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.
Outside of game show use, many industries have adopted AI applications to improve their operations, from manufacturers deploying robotics to insurance companies improving their assessment of risk.
Also read: How AI is changing the way we learn languages
Types of AI
AI is often divided into two categories: narrow AI and general AI.
Regardless of if an AI is categorized as narrow or general, modern AI is still somewhat limited. It cannot communicate exactly like humans, but it can mimic emotions. However, AI cannot truly have or “feel” emotions like a person can.
Machine learning (ML) is considered a subset of AI, whereby a set of algorithms builds models based on sample data, also called training data.
The main purpose of an ML model is to make accurate predictions or decisions based on historical data. ML solutions use vast amounts of semi-structured and structured data to make forecasts and predictions with a high level of accuracy.
In 1959, Arthur Samuel, a pioneer in AI and computer gaming, defined ML as a field of study that enables computers to continuously learn without being explicitly programmed.
An ML model exposed to new data continuously learns, adapts and develops on its own. Many businesses are investing in ML solutions because they assist them with decision-making, forecasting future trends, learning more about their customers and gaining other valuable insights.
Types of ML
There are three main types of ML: supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning. A data scientist or other ML practitioner will use a specific version based on what they want to predict. Here’s what each type of ML entails:
Major companies like Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Uber have ML a central part of their business operations. ML can be applied in many ways, including via:
Another way ML is used is to power digital navigation systems. For example, Apple and Google Maps apps on a smartphone use ML to inspect traffic, organize user-reported incidents like accidents or construction, and find the driver an optimal route for traveling. ML is becoming so ubiquitous that it even plays a role in determining a user’s social media feeds.
AI and ML do share similar characteristics and are closely related. ML is a subset of AI, which essentially means it is an advanced technique for realizing it. ML is sometimes described as the current state-of-the-art version of AI.
AI and ML are both on a path to becoming some of the most disruptive and transformative technologies to date. Some experts say AI and ML developments will have even more of a significant impact on human life than fire or electricity.
The AI market size is anticipated to reach around $1,394.3 billion by 2029, according to a report from Fortune Business Insights. As more companies and consumers find value in AI-powered solutions and products, the market will grow, and more investments will be made in AI. The same goes for ML — research suggests the market will hit $209.91 billion by 2029.
Another significant quality AI and ML share is the wide range of benefits they offer to companies and individuals. AI and ML solutions help companies achieve operational excellence, improve employee productivity, overcome labor shortages and accomplish tasks never done before.
There are a few other benefits that are expected to come from AI and ML, including:
AI and ML are already influencing businesses of all sizes and types, and the broader societal expectations are high. Investing in and adopting AI and ML is expected to bolster the economy, lead to fiercer competition, create a more tech-savvy workforce and inspire innovation in future generations.
Without data, AI and ML would not be where they are today. AI systems rely on large datasets, in addition to iterative processing algorithms, to function properly.
ML models only work when supplied with various types of semi-structured and structured data. Harnessing the power of Big Data lies at the core of both ML and AI more broadly.
Because AI and ML thrive on data, ensuring its quality is a top priority for many companies. For example, if an ML model receives poor-quality information, the outputs will reflect that.
Consider this scenario: Law enforcement agencies nationwide use ML solutions for predictive policing. However, reports of police forces using biased training data for ML purposes have come to light, which some say is inevitably perpetuating inequalities in the criminal justice system.
This is only one example, but it shows how much of an impact data quality has on the functioning of AI and ML.
Also read: What is unstructured data in AI?
Even with the similarities listed above, AI and ML have differences that suggest they should not be used interchangeably. One way to keep the two straight is to remember that all types of ML are considered AI, but not all kinds of AI are ML.
AI is an all-encompassing term that describes a machine that incorporates some level of human intelligence. It’s considered a broad concept and is sometimes loosely defined, whereas ML is a more specific notion with a limited scope.
Practitioners in the AI field develop intelligent systems that can perform various complex tasks like a human. On the other hand, ML researchers will spend time teaching machines to accomplish a specific job and provide accurate outputs.
Due to this primary difference, it’s fair to say that professionals using AI or ML may utilize different elements of data and computer science for their projects.
Another difference between AI and ML solutions is that AI aims to increase the chances of success, whereas ML seeks to boost accuracy and identify patterns. Success is not as relevant in ML as it is in AI applications.
It’s also understood that AI aims to find the optimal solution for its users. ML is used more often to find a solution, optimal or not. This is a subtle difference, but further illustrates the idea that ML and AI are not the same.
In ML, there is a concept called the ‘accuracy paradox,’ in which ML models may achieve a high accuracy value, but can give practitioners a false premise because the dataset could be highly imbalanced.
AI is a much broader concept than ML and can be applied in ways that will help the user achieve a desired outcome. AI also employs methods of logic, mathematics and reasoning to accomplish its tasks, whereas ML can only learn, adapt or self-correct when it’s introduced to new data. In a sense, ML has more constrained capabilities than AI.
ML models can only reach a predetermined outcome, but AI focuses more on creating an intelligent system to accomplish more than just one result.
It can be perplexing, and the differences between AI and ML are subtle. Suppose a business trained ML to forecast future sales. It would only be capable of making predictions based on the data used to teach it.
However, a business could invest in AI to accomplish various tasks. For example, Google uses AI for several reasons, such as to improve its search engine, incorporate AI into its products and create equal access to AI for the general public.
Much of the progress we’ve seen in recent years regarding AI and ML is expected to continue. ML has helped fuel innovation in the field of AI.
AI and ML are highly complex topics that some people find difficult to comprehend.
Despite their mystifying natures, AI and ML have quickly become invaluable tools for businesses and consumers, and the latest developments in AI and ML may transform the way we live.
Read next: Does AI sentience matter to the enterprise?
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