What is Machine Learning & How Does it Work?

Machine Learning has become a buzzword in the technology industry, and with the recent emergence of Chat GPT – which uses a type of machine learning – organisations and individuals are all eager to understand and harness its power. But what exactly is Machine Learning, and why is it so important?

In this article we’ll introduce you to the field of Machine Learning, explaining what it is, how it works, and why it’s becoming increasingly crucial in the modern world.

What is Machine Learning?

Machine Learning (ML) is a subfield of artificial intelligence. It involves the development of algorithms and statistical models that enable computers to learn from data and improve their performance over time, without being explicitly programmed to do so – to put things simply!

The goal of Machine Learning is to build models that can make accurate predictions (or decisions) based on input data. This is achieved by training the model via a large dataset, allowing it to identify patterns and relationships within that data. It can then use this knowledge to make predictions or decisions that concern new, unseen data. It has many real-world applications, including image recognition, natural language processing, recommendation systems, and fraud detection.

Types of Machine Learning

There are actually several different types of Machine Learning, each with its own unique strength and application to suit different needs.

Machine Learning algorithms are categorised into supervised learning, unsupervised learning, and reinforcement learning (depending on the type of data that’s used for training and the nature of the task).

Supervised Learning

Supervised Learning involves training a model using labelled data, where the label is the desired output for a given input. The model is then tested using new data to determine its accuracy when making predictions. It eventually learns to make predictions based on the relationships between the input features and the corresponding labels in the training data.

The goal here is to learn a mapping function that takes the input data and maps it to the corresponding output label. This mapping function can then be used to make predictions relating to new data. Common applications for supervised learning include image classification, speech recognition, and email filtering.

In simple terms: Supervised Learning is like giving a computer a large bag of sweets and asking it to sort them by colour or shape without telling it what those colours and shapes are! It will attempt to try and understand the information it’s been given and find similarities.

This type of machine learning can be used to discover hidden patterns or features in data, like grouping customers with similar behaviour together or detecting unusual activity.

Unsupervised Learning

With Unsupervised Learning the model is given an unlabelled dataset and it is expected to find patterns and relationships in the data on its own. Unlike Supervised Learning, where the model is trained on labelled data and the goal is to make predictions based on that data, in Unsupervised Learning the goal is to uncover hidden structures in the data.

In simple terms: Unsupervised Learning is like giving a computer a big pile of puzzle pieces and asking it to figure out how they fit together on its own! It will look for patterns and group similar pieces together to try to make sense of the information.

This type of machine learning is useful when you want to uncover hidden structures or relationships in data, but don’t have any specific ideas of what those relationships might look like. It’s often used in applications such as customer segmentation, market research, and recommendation systems. In Unsupervised Learning, the quality of the results depends on the choice of algorithm, the size and quality of the dataset, and the ability of the model to uncover meaningful patterns in the data.

Reinforcement Learning

Reinforcement Learning involves training an agent to make a sequence of decisions in an environment to maximise a reward signal. An agent learns to interact with its environment by trial and error, taking actions and observing the resulting rewards or penalties. The agent’s goal is to learn a policy that maps states to actions in order to maximise the cumulative reward over time.

The algorithms used in Reinforcement Learning are inspired by the way animals and humans learn from rewards (and punishments) in their environment.

In simple terms: Reinforcement Learning is when a computer learns through trial and error. For example, if a computer was playing a video game, it would try many various strategies to try and score the most points in the end. The rewards and feedback it received after each attempt would be used to improve its strategy over time.

Reinforcement Learning is used in a variety of applications, such as in robotic gaming (chess or video games), autonomous vehicles and optimising recommendation systems. The quality of the results depends on the choice of algorithm, the design of the environment, and the choice of reward function.

How can Organisations use Machine Learning?

For businesses, Machine Learning can be a powerful tool to drive efficiency and improve decision-making.

For example, a business may use Machine Learning for customer segmentation. ML can analyse customer data, such as demographics, purchase history and online behaviour. These algorithms will then automatically group customers into segments based on similar characteristics and behaviours.

This information is extremely useful for a business as it can be used for targeted marketing campaigns, personalised product recommendations and even help to improve the customer experience through enhanced UX and UI. Not only does an organisation save time and resources (compared to manual segmentation), but it now has a deeper understanding of its customers. This can lead to better marketing practices and, ultimately, increase sales.

Challenges & Limitations of Machine Learning

Despite its many successes, Machine Learning is not without its challenges and limitations.

One of the major challenges is the need for large amounts of data to train algorithms. This can be particularly challenging for new or niche applications that only have limited data.

There is also potential for bias in algorithms: particularly in sensitive applications such as criminal justice or hiring. This can occur if the training data is biased or if the algorithm has a hidden bias in its design.

Additionally, Machine Learning algorithms can be difficult to interpret, which can make it challenging to understand how they are making decisions and to identify and correct errors.

Deep Learning Vs Machine Learning

There is often confusion between the terms Deep Learning and Machine Learning. Although there is some crossover, there is a clear difference between the two.

Deep Learning is actually a subfield of Machine Learning that focuses on creating artificial neural networks with multiple layers to model and solve complex problems. It’s often used for image recognition and natural language processing.

Machine Learning, on the other hand, is a broader field that encompasses a variety of algorithms and techniques, including Deep Learning. While Deep Learning excels at tasks such as image and speech recognition, Machine Learning can be used to solve a wider range of problems, including regression and classification tasks.

In simple terms: Deep Learning is a type of Machine Learning, but not all Machine Learning is Deep Learning!

Soap Media & Machine Learning

As data becomes increasingly abundant, Machine Learning algorithms are able to process and analyse it to uncover new insights and opportunities. By incorporating Machine Learning into their operations, businesses can improve customer satisfaction, optimise their processes, and gain a better understanding of their market.

However, it’s important for businesses to approach Machine Learning with a clear strategy and an understanding of its limitations, to ensure that it’s used in an ethical and effective manner. As the field continues to mature, businesses that embrace machine learning will be well-positioned to stay ahead of the curve and achieve their goals.

At Soap Media, we like to use the power of machine learning to boost our digital marketing services.

  • With the help of ML algorithms, like those found in Google Analytics 4, we can uncover fascinating patterns in consumer behaviour and carve out unique segments for our clients.
  • By digging deep into big data, we can craft highly personalised campaigns that deliver the perfect message to the right audience at just the right moment!
  • Machine learning also enables us to optimise the placement of ads and allocation of budgets, delivering campaigns that are both cost-effective and bursting with positive results.

With these data-driven strategies, formulated with the help of machine learning, we can offer our clients digital marketing solutions that are highly effective for achieving their business objectives.

Machine Learning Common Questions

  • What are the main features in Machine Learning?

The main features in machine learning are data, algorithms, model training, predictions, and evaluation. Machine learning relies on data to train algorithms, which learn patterns from the data. Models are then trained using this data and can make predictions or classifications on new, unseen data. Evaluation measures the model’s performance, ensuring it generalises well.

  • What is Regularisation in Machine Learning?

Regularisation in machine learning is a technique to prevent overfitting. It’s like putting controls on a model to prevent it from becoming too complicated. It does this by adding a penalty for complex, extreme values in the model, making the model simpler and better at working with new data. You can think of it as balancing a model’s learning from existing data with its ability to handle new, unfamiliar information. Common methods include L1 and L2 regularisation, which encourage simpler and smoother models, respectively.

  • What is Overfitting in Machine Learning?

Overfitting in machine learning happens when a model becomes too specialised in learning from the training data. It learns the noise and specifics of the training data so well that it struggles to make accurate predictions on new, unseen data. It’s like memorising answers for a specific set of questions but being unable to answer new, similar questions. Overfitting can be prevented by using techniques like regularisation and having a sufficient amount of diverse training data.

  • What is Cross-Validation in Machine Learning?

Cross-validation is a technique to assess a model’s performance. It involves dividing the data into multiple subsets, training the model on different subsets, and testing it on the remaining data. It’s an essential feature of machine learning as it estimates a model’s effectiveness in identifying potential issues before applying it to real-world data. 

  • What is Boosting in Machine Learning?

Boosting is a method that  improves predictive accuracy through enhancing the performance of a weak model by combining multiple weak learners to create a strong one. It can be described as forming a strong team from individuals with different skills, where each member focuses on correcting the mistakes of the previous learner. AdaBoost and Gradient Boosting are the most popular boosting algorithms used in machine learning. 

  • What is Recall in Machine Learning?

Recall is a measure of a model’s ability to correctly identify all relevant instances within a dataset – also known as sensitivity or true positive rate. In simple terms, it answers the question: “Out of all the actual positive cases, how many did the model correctly identify?” In a business context, it’s like ensuring that your fraud detection system doesn’t miss any actual cases of fraud. High recall means the model is effective at catching as many fraudulent transactions as possible, even if it occasionally flags legitimate ones as suspicious. 

Written by
Spreet Aulakh
Spreet Aulakh

Get Your Free Consultation

Whether you’ve read something on our blog that’s piqued your interest, or have a digital problem that you'd like us to solve for you, our experts are here to answer your questions.

  • 1
    Discuss Your Problem.Share what you’re looking to achieve with our talented team and explore tailored service solutions that will deliver the results you’re after.
  • 2
    Hear Our Proposal.Learn about how we can use our wealth of experience to create a digital strategy that works for you, and even develop a bespoke approach to rise to your unique challenges.
  • 3
    Anticipate the Solution.Discover the cutting-edge technology and innovative methodologies that have already helped some of the UK’s biggest brands to smash their KPIs.

By submitting this form you agree to our privacy policy.