What even is machine learning?

Buzzwords. Either you love them or hate them. Things like “synergy”, “big data”, “after the pandemic, I’m going to get in shape”. We hear these phrases so often that they become meaningless. So every once in a while we need to take a step back and discuss what exactly we are talking about. 

In this series of blogs, we will be discussing all of the buzzwords and hot topics surrounding machine learning, cloud computing, and data analytics. First up in the series is machine learning. What is machine learning? What is it good for? Absolutely nothing? These are some of the questions we will cover in this article. 

Although it sounds quite scary, machine learning refers to computer programs that learn about data and get better over time. That’s it. Computer programs that learn about data and then get better over time. These programs are usually then used to make predictions.

For example, if you have data on Bermuda traffic, a machine learning program could learn that traffic is a lot heavier during rush hour. As more and more traffic data is collected, the machine learning program will become better and better at understanding the relationship between the day of the week, the time of day, and the amount of traffic. This machine learning program could then be used to predict how long your delivery will take to arrive or to predict how long your taxi journey will be. 

Another example of a machine learning program could be a company that has data on who their customers are. The company could write a computer program to find hidden groups in their customer data. There could be a group of customers who only buy one particular product, another group of customers who shop late at night, or a group of customers who only shop with the company through their website. There is no limit on the different types of customer groups a machine learning program could find. This program could then be used to target specific ads or discounts to specific customers or to predict how a new customer will interact with the company given previous customer data.

There are many examples of machine learning already in our lives. Machine learning is used to power chatbots on our smartphones, to determine if a fraudulent transaction is made on our bank account, or to predict if someone will be able to pay back a loan. The power of machine learning is all around us. 

Hopefully this article has shed some light on what machine learning is and what it is good for. If you could build a machine learning computer program to learn from data and get better over time, what would you use it for?