Artificial Intelligence vs Machine Learning: What's The Difference?

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The difference between artificial intelligence and machine learning may seem at first glance like splitting hairs. The two terms are often used interchangeably, and as research continues into AI, we move ever closer to true artificial intelligence becoming a reality.

It's useful to understand exactly what the difference is between AI and machine learning, because while there is definitely some overlap, they aren't exactly the same. Here's what you need to know.

Artificial Intelligence

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Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is a machine that is capable of intelligent behaviour. Ultimately, the goal with AI is to enable computers to think like a human. Historically, early computers were designed to replicate memory, and basic calculations, such as the Difference Engine created by Charles Babbage. In more recent times, we've gone beyond these basic tasks, and moved towards creating machines that mimic our idea of consciousness. For example, the ability to make decisions, and carry out tasks in "human" ways.

The difference, of course, is that eventually an AI will be able to think far faster, and remember far more, than a human mind, in the same way that a computer can already run complex calculations far faster than we can do them. Examples of AI include automated stock trading systems. These typically have an advantage over human traders. Self-driving cars are another example, although they're still a work in progress.

AI doesn't need to be pre-programmed. At the moment, we have weak AI, which focuses on specific tasks. We also have general AI. In theory, this will be able to perform any task. And it is in general AI that we see the development of machine learning.

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Machine Learning

Machine learning is a subset of AI. It is the groundwork that enables AI development to move forward. Machine learning uses data to learn, and improve its predictions about the future. The more data the computer receives, the better it is able to learn, and improve its performance going forward. It is defined as "the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed".

Machine learning is already leading to exciting breakthroughs in areas we have previously struggled to reach. From big things like understanding the human genome, to mundane things like your email spam filter, all make use of machine learning. Machine learning will enable us to develop new medicines, new technologies, and other potentially major scientific breakthroughs.

Both machine learning and AI offer the potential for enormous change in our futures. It's exciting to see where it may lead. Although there are plenty of concerns around what might happen if we don't exercise caution in this area of research. It's already a fundamental part of our daily lives. Major corporations - Google, Apple, Facebook etc, all use AI and machine learning. You probably use them multiple times a day without even realising. The question is, have we already passed the point of no return?

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