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11 Oct

Machine Learning - A Surprisingly Simple Process

It is not uncommon to see the phrase "machine learning" being casually included in articles and social media comments, but few explain how it actually works. Because of this, many people who are not in computer science think that machines learn through some extremely technical and convoluted process. This is not really the case. The process by which computers are taught things is quite simple and having them learn is essential to many businesses.

Computers operate much faster than a human brain can; however, they cannot solve complex problems well. For example, a calculator will multiply two large numbers in a fraction of the time that a person could, but you cannot feed it a multifaceted calculus problem or even a simple word problem. This limitation is presented by a computer's hardware. Every piece of common technology from a smartphone to a gaming system is comprised of electrical circuits. While the orientation of these circuits can get extremely complicated, a single circuit can only be either on or off, otherwise known as being binary. Because of this limitation, every piece of code is written to do a specific task so that it can be converted for the hardware. A full fledged piece of software such as a website or a self-driving car is simply the combination of several pieces of code.

Machines can learn using a simple method that has to do with specific tasks. Video sites like YouTube or Netflix use machine learning to try and keep their users on their website for as long as possible. To do this, software engineers write code that tells the program to recommend things for you based on what you, or people similar to you, have watched before. Because programmers do not specify how to accomplish this task, the software approaches the problem randomly and fails over and over again. It will then be discarded and the code will try again. Because machines function so much faster than humans, the software can fail millions of times before coming up with a solution. After each iteration, the software keeps what worked and discards what did not work until it has met the requirement that the programmer specified. Put simply, the code learns through millions of iterations of trial and error. 

As you might imagine, having machines learn can be immensely powerful, especially for running your own business. Programs can be taught to do nearly anything using repetition.

If you are interested in having a program work for your business, contact our team today.

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