Artificial intelligence vs machine learning: what’s the difference?

There are so many buzzwords in the tech world these days that keeping up with the latest trends can be challenging. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been dominating the news, so much so that AI was named the most notable word of 2023 by Collins Dictionary. However, specific terms like ‘machine learning’ have often been used instead of AI.

Introduced by American computer scientist Arthur Samuel in 1959, the term ‘machine learning’ is described as a “computer’s ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.”

So, what is the difference between AI and machine learning?

For one, machine learning (ML) is a subset of artificial intelligence (AI). While they are often used interchangeably, especially when discussing big data, these popular technologies have several distinctions, including differences in their scope, applications, and beyond.

What is artificial intelligence?

Most people are now aware of this concept. Still, artificial intelligence actually refers to a collection of technologies integrated into a system, allowing it to think, learn, and solve complex problems. It has the capacity to copy cognitive abilities similar to human beings, enabling it to see, understand, and react to spoken or written language, analyze data, offer suggestions, and beyond.

What is machine learning?

Meanwhile, machine learning is just one area of AI that automatically enables a machine or system to learn and improve from experience. Rather than relying on explicit programming, it uses algorithms to sift through vast datasets, extract learning from the data, and then utilize this to make well-informed decisions. The learning part is that it improves over time through training and exposure to more data.

‘Machine learning models’ are the results or knowledge the program acquires by running an algorithm on training data. The more data used, the better the model’s performance.

How are machine learning and AI related?

Machine learning is an aspect of AI that enables machines to take knowledge from data and learn from it. In contrast, AI represents the overarching principle of allowing machines or systems to understand, reason, act, or adapt like humans.

Hence, think of AI as the entire ocean, encompassing various forms of marine life. Machine learning is like a specific species of fish in that ocean. Just as this species lives within the broader environment of the ocean, machine learning exists within the realm of AI, representing just one of many elements or aspects. However, it is still a significant and dynamic part of the entire ecosystem.

What are the differences between machine learning and AI?

Machine learning cannot impersonate human intelligence, which is not its aim. Instead, it focuses on building systems that can independently learn from and adapt to new data through identifying patterns. AI’s goal, on the other hand, is to create machines that can operate intelligently and independently, simulating human intelligence to perform a wide range of tasks, from simple to highly complex ones.

For example, when you receive emails, your email service uses machine learning algorithms to filter out spam. The ML system has been trained on vast datasets of emails, learning to distinguish between spam and non-spam by recognizing patterns in the text, sender information, and other attributes. Over time, it adapts to new types of spam and your personal preferences — like which emails you mark as spam or not — continually improving its accuracy.

In this scenario, your email provider may use AI to offer smart replies, sort emails into categories (like social, promotions, primary), and even prioritize essential emails. This AI system understands the context of your emails, categorizes them, and suggests short responses based on the content it analyzes. It mimics a high level of understanding and response generation that usually requires human intelligence.

What are the 4 types of machine learning?

There are three main types of machine learning and some specialized forms, including supervised, unsupervised, semi-supervised, and reinforcement learning.

Machine learning algorithms are classified into 4 types:

1. Supervised

2. Unsupervised

3. Semi-supervised

4. Reinforcement

1. Supervised learning, the algorithm learns from a labeled dataset where both input features and their corresponding target labels are provided. The…

— Danny.28 (@drifterddm) May 29, 2023

In supervised learning, the machine is taught by an operator. The user supplies the machine learning algorithm with a recognized dataset containing specific inputs paired with their correct outputs, and the algorithm has to figure out how to produce these outputs from the given inputs. Although the user is aware of the correct solutions, the algorithm needs to identify patterns, all while learning from them and making predictions. If the predictions have errors, the user has to correct them, and this cycle repeats until the algorithm reaches a substantial degree of accuracy or performance.

Semi-supervised learning falls between supervised and unsupervised learning. Labeled data consists of information tagged with meaningful labels, allowing the algorithm to understand the data, whereas unlabeled data does not contain these informative tags. Using this mix, machine learning algorithms can be trained to assign labels to unlabeled data.

Unsupervised learning involves training the algorithm on a dataset without explicit labels or correct answers. The goal is for the model to identify patterns and relationships in the data by itself. It tries to learn the underlying structure of the data to categorize it into clusters or spread it along dimensions.

Finally, reinforcement learning looks at structured learning approaches, in which a machine learning algorithm is given a set of actions, parameters, and goals. The algorithm then has to navigate through various scenarios by experimenting with different strategies, assessing each outcome to identify the most effective approach. It employs a trial-and-error approach, drawing on previous experiences to refine its strategy and adjust its actions according to the given situation, all to achieve the best possible result.

How AI and machine learning apply in the real world

In financial contexts, AI and machine learning serve as essential tools for tasks like identifying fraudulent activities, forecasting risks, and offering enhanced proactive financial guidance. Apparently, AI-driven platforms can now offer personalized educational content based on an individual’s financial behavior and needs. By delivering bite-sized, relevant information, these platforms ensure users are well-equipped to make informed financial decisions, leading to better credit scores over time. Nvidia AI posted on X that generative AI was being incorporated into curricula.

Learn how educators are integrating #GenerativeAI, Design & Sim into their curricula. Join professors from @UTAustin & @UW as they share insights on revolutionizing education with immersive learning on NVIDIA’s Omniverse platform.

📍 Mar. 21 #GTC24


— NVIDIA AI (@NVIDIAAI) February 27, 2024

During the Covid-19 pandemic, machine learning also gave insights into the most urgent events. They are also powerful weapons for cybersecurity, helping organizations protect themselves and their customers by detecting anomalies. Mobile app developers have actively integrated numerous algorithms and explicit programming to make their apps fraud-free for financial institutions.

Featured image: Canva

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Suswati Basu