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Machine learning: it’s about harnessing information, not replacing people


In my previous blog post I said artificial intelligence (AI) should be on CIOs’ agendas, and despite worries about potential existential hazards and threats, there are real business benefits to be garnered.

In this post I want to focus specifically on cognitive and ‘deep learning’ technologies, such as IBM’s Watson and Google’s Deep Mind, that offer powerful, general purpose learning algorithms. These technologies have the potential to transform many industries and offer new capabilities such as processing natural language and learning through the generation and analysis of hypothesises. In combination, these capabilities present powerful opportunities for businesses.

Research suggests that unstructured data and ‘big content’ represents 80% of all information stored today and is growing rapidly. The benefit of cognitive computing applications is they can distinguish between different types of information and understand their context. When these capabilities are applied across large sets of information from multiple sources, they allow hypothesises to be created, tested and refined – leading to the most accurate and useful results.

This is, in effect, machines learning dynamically. Just as Google’s billion-node neural network learned to recognise cats after ingesting hours of YouTube footage, and Watson collaboratively creates new dishes after analysing Bon Appetite Magazine’s database of recipes These tools can be let loose across any organisation’s unstructured data, becoming smarter and learning dynamically from feedback, failure and success. This means organisations can answer pressing questions, benefit from the emergence of new insights and effectively serve their customers with valuable and meaningful advice. 

Cognitive and machine learning algorithms will increasingly take on the role of highly knowledgeable sales people capable of providing timely and useful answer to complex queries. For example, “where can I go on a walking holiday in northern Europe that includes activities for teenagers, has good weather and can be done on a limited budget?”

It’s not hard to see why many professional jobs appear to be threatened by machine learning technology. However, I do believe many professions will continue to demand the empathy, creativity and discretion that are provided uniquely by people. Forward thinking businesses will use the power of machine learning and AI to harness the power and value that resides in their information, whilst continuing to apply the human touch where it matters most.

What do you think the future of machine learning will look like?

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