Year by year we are generating increasingly large volumes of data which require more complex and powerful tools to analyse in order to produce meaningful insights.
What is machine learning?
Anticipating the need for more efficient ways of spotting patterns in large datasets on mass, Machine Learning was developed to give computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.
Today, it largely remains a human-supervised process, at least in the developmental stage. This consists of monitoring a computer’s progress as it works through a number of “observations” in a data set arranged to help train the computer into spotting patterns between attributes as quickly and efficiently as possible. Once the computer has started to build a model to represent the patterns identified, the computer then goes through a looping process, seeking to develop a better model with each iteration.
How is it useful?
The aim of this is to allow computers to learn for themselves, knowing when to anticipate fluctuation between variables which then helps us to forecast what may happen in future. With a computer model trained on a specific data problem or relationship, it then allows data professions to produce reliable decisions and results, leading to the discovering of new insights which would have remained hidden without this new analytical technique.
Think this sounds like rocket science? Every time you’ve bought something from an online shop and had recommendations based on your purchase – that’s based on machine learning. Over thousands of purchases the website has been able to aggregate the data and spot correlations based on real buying users’ buying patterns, and then present the most relevant patterns back to you based on what you did or bought. You may see these as “recommended for you” or “this was frequently bought with that”. Amazon and Ebay have been doing this for years, and more recently, Netflix.
This sounds fantastic – but where can this help us going forward?
This is distinguished from other data science practices by the use of deep neural networks. This means that the data models pass through networks of nodes, in a structure which mimics the human brain. Structures like this are able to adapt to the data they are processing, in order to execute in the most efficient manner.
Using these leading techniques, some of the examples now look ready to have profound impacts on how we live and interact with each other.We are currently looking at the imminent launch of commercially available real-time language translation which requires a speed of analysis and processing never available before. Similar innovations have evolved in handwriting-to-text conversion with “smartpads” such as the Bamboo Spark, which bridge the gap between technology and traditional note taking.
Other applications mimic the human components of understanding; classify, recognise, detect and describe (according to SAS.com). This has now entered main-stream use with anti-spam measures on website contact forms, where the software knows which squares contain images of cars, or street signs.
Particularly within the healthcare industry, huge leaps are made where scanned images of CT scans have been “taught” how to spot the early sign of lung cancer in Szechwan People’s Hospital, China. This has come in to meet a great need as there is a shortage of trained radiologists to examine patients.
In summary, there have been huge leaps in data analysis and science in the last couple years. The future looks bright for the wider range of real world issues to which we can apply more and more sophisticated techniques and tackle previously impossible challenges. Get in touch and let’s see what we can do for you.