An introduction to Machine Learning

The term Machine Learning was coined by Arthur Samuel in 1959, an American pioneer in the field of computer gaming and artificial intelligence and stated that “it gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed”.
And in 1997, Tom Mitchell gave a “well-posed” mathematical and relational definition that “A computer program is said to learn from experience E with respect to some task T and some performance measure P, if its performance on T, as measured by P, improves with experience E.

Machine Learning is a latest buzzword floating around. It deserves to, as it is one of the most interesting subfield of Computer Science. So what does Machine Learning really mean?

Let’s try to understand Machine Learning in layman terms. Consider you are trying to toss a paper to a dustbin.

After first attempt, you realize that you have put too much force in it. After second attempt, you realize you are closer to target but you need to increase your throw angle. What is happening here is basically after every throw we are learning something and improving the end result. We are programmed to learn from our experience.

This implies that the tasks in which machine learning is concerned offers a fundamentally operational definition rather than defining the field in cognitive terms. This follows Alan Turing’s proposal in his paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”, in which the question “Can machines think?” is replaced with the question “Can machines do what we (as thinking entities) can do?”
Within the field of data analytics, machine learning is used to devise complex models and algorithms that lend themselves to prediction; in commercial use, this is known as predictive analytics. These analytical models allow researchers, data scientists, engineers, and analysts to “produce reliable, repeatable decisions and results” and uncover “hidden insights” through learning from historical relationships and trends in the data set(input).

Suppose that you decide to check out that offer for a vacation . You browse through the travel agency website and search for a hotel. When you look at a specific hotel, just below the hotel description there is a section titled “You might also like these hotels”. This is a common use case of Machine Learning called “Recommendation Engine”. Again, many data points were used to train a model in order to predict what will be the best hotels to show you under that section, based on a lot of information they already know about you.

So if you want your program to predict, for example, traffic patterns at a busy intersection (task T), you can run it through a machine learning algorithm with data about past traffic patterns (experience E) and, if it has successfully “learned”, it will then do better at predicting future traffic patterns (performance measure P).
The highly complex nature of many real-world problems, though, often means that inventing specialized algorithms that will solve them perfectly every time is impractical, if not impossible. Examples of machine learning problems include, “Is this cancer?”, “Which of these people are good friends with each other?”, “Will this person like this movie?” such problems are excellent targets for Machine Learning, and in fact machine learning has been applied such problems with great success.

Classification of Machine Learning

Machine learning implementations are classified into three major categories, depending on the nature of the learning “signal” or “response” available to a learning system which are as follows:-

  1. Supervised learning : When an algorithm learns from example data and associated target responses that can consist of numeric values or string labels, such as classes or tags, in order to later predict the correct response when posed with new examples comes under the category of Supervised learning. This approach is indeed similar to human learning under the supervision of a teacher. The teacher provides good examples for the student to memorize, and the student then derives general rules from these specific examples.
  2. Unsupervised learning :Whereas when an algorithm learns from plain examples without any associated response, leaving to the algorithm to determine the data patterns on its own. This type of algorithm tends to restructure the data into something else, such as new features that may represent a class or a new series of un-correlated values. They are quite useful in providing humans with insights into the meaning of data and new useful inputs to supervised machine learning algorithms.
    As a kind of learning, it resembles the methods humans use to figure out that certain objects or events are from the same class, such as by observing the degree of similarity between objects. Some recommendation systems that you find on the web in the form of marketing automation are based on this type of learning.
  3. Reinforcement learning : When you present the algorithm with examples that lack labels, as in unsu-pervised learning. However, you can accompany an example with positive or negative feedback according to the solution the algorithm proposes comes under the category of Reinforcement learning, which is connected to applications for which the algorithm must make decisions (so the product is prescriptive, not just descriptive, as in unsupervised learning), and the decisions bear consequences. In the human world, it is just like learning by trial and error.
    Errors help you learn because they have a penalty added (cost, loss of time, regret, pain, and so on), teaching you that a certain course of action is less likely to succeed than others. An interesting example of reinforcement learning occurs when computers learn to play video games by themselves.
    In this case, an application presents the algorithm with examples of specific situations, such as having the gamer stuck in a maze while avoiding an enemy. The application lets the algorithm know the outcome of actions it takes, and learning occurs while trying to avoid what it discovers to be dan-gerous and to pursue survival. You can have a look at how the company Google DeepMind has created a reinforcement learning program that plays old Atari’s videogames. When watching the video, notice how the program is initially clumsy and unskilled but steadily improves with training until it becomes a champion.
  4. Semi-supervised learning : where an incomplete training signal is given: a training set with some (often many) of the target outputs missing. There is a special case of this principle known as Transduction where the entire set of problem instances is known at learning time, except that part of the targets are missing.

Categorizing on the basis of required Output

Another categorization of machine learning tasks arises when one considers the desired output of a machine-learned system:

  1. Classification : When inputs are divided into two or more classes, and the learner must produce a model that assigns unseen inputs to one or more (multi-label classification) of these classes. This is typically tackled in a supervised way. Spam filtering is an example of classification, where the inputs are email (or other) messages and the classes are “spam” and “not spam”.
  2. Regression : Which is also a supervised problem, A case when the outputs are continuous rather than discrete.
  3. Clustering : When a set of inputs is to be divided into groups. Unlike in classification, the groups are not known beforehand, making this typically an unsupervised task.

Machine Learning comes into the picture when problems cannot be solved by means of typical approaches.

This article is contributed by Siddharth Pandey. If you like GeeksforGeeks and would like to contribute, you can also write an article using or mail your article to See your article appearing on the GeeksforGeeks main page and help other Geeks.

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