Without question, technology has advanced (and continues to do so) at a head spinning rate. Mundane tasks that once bogged down human workers can now be performed entirely by robotic software, error-free and at a much faster rate to boot. Today, self-service options allow us to handle many of our day-to-day tasks without the need for human input, from hitting the bank ATM to using the self-checkout at the local grocery store.
But basic automation isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of how computers are impacting the world around us. In fact, we’re already seeing many improvements in this area, particularly in terms of how intuitive or “smart” this technology is becoming. Enter machine learning. Not yet familiar? Here are five points that will get you up to speed.
What is Machine Learning?
Think about automation for a moment. In its basic form, this technology allows users to program a task or a series of tasks and have those ordered steps performed by software instead of humans. Machine learning takes this concept to a whole new level. Rather than telling a computer how to solve a problem or carry out a certain process, the technology is capable of learning how to proceed on its own, without the need for human direction.
Essentially, machine learning uses data to identify and recognize patterns and then make predictions based on those patterns. Over time, the machine continues to add information to its database, which it then uses to become “smarter” at performing tasks in the future (hence the term “learning”).
What Can Machines Do?
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about machine learning is the many things this technology is capable of doing. What were once considered tasks and activities that only a human could handle are now being shifted to machine with surprising results. Take chatbots, for instance. Even just a decade or so ago, providing customer support was something that was solely a human job. Now, a good portion of these tasks can be handled electronically.
And thanks to machine learning, computers can now “see” and “hear” information, recognizing images and translating speech entirely on their own. Just take the growing popularity of virtual assistant applications, like Siri and Amazon Alexa, for example. These machines can listen to us, understand what we are saying and respond accordingly – all without a human operator at the helm.
How is Machine Learning Being Used Today?
Beyond the example of chatbots, machine learning algorithms are already being leveraged in a number of industries to do some pretty amazing things. For instance, health care providers have tested the use of computer assisted diagnosis (CAD) to review early mammography scans that had been previously performed on women who later developed breast cancer. The computer identified cancer in more than half (52%) of the scans and up to a year before the women were actually diagnosed. Machine learning is also being used to understand disease risk factors and even predict avoidable hospital stays.
From a more mainstream standpoint, machine learning is being used by marketers to deliver more personalized campaigns to target audiences. Algorithms can be used to identify which leads are more likely to convert, when and why, enabling brands to create much more accurate and effective marketing strategies. And, of course, as we’ve mentioned, the use of chatbots is steadily on the rise across just about every industry.
How Will Machine Learning Be Used in the Future?
When it comes to this innovative technology, the possibilities are virtually endless. Trends indicate that we should see some or all of the following in the not-so-distant future:
- Customized health care plans based on each individual’s lifestyle and genetic makeup
- Computer assisted security that will predict who might be a threat, particularly in places like airports and stadiums
- Advanced fraud detection in areas such as insurance and financial services which will save consumers money
- Universal language translators allowing for instant and accurate translation while speaking
- Self-driving vehicles which can navigate on their own, reducing traffic and limiting accidents
Why Should You Care?
Of course, all of this fanfare about machine learning means nothing if you can’t apply it to your own life in a practical way. The fact is, even if you happen to be a late adopter or prefer not to avail yourself of this type of technology, chances are it’s going to impact your life in one way or another, and whether you like it or not. For instance, the application of machine learning is already being leveraged in workplaces across the globe, a trend that experts believe will only continue.
This means some jobs will become obsolete – and not just those in IT. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2022, smart machines and robots may replace highly trained professionals, including those who work in such fields as medicine and law. So, regardless of the industry you are in, chances are you will soon feel the impact of machine learning.
The best way to handle these changes is to prepare for them ahead of time. By understanding what machine learning is, what it’s capable of and what to expect in the future, you’ll be better positioned to leverage this powerful technology to your benefit.