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1. Introduction to Collective Intelligence > What Is Machine Learning?

What Is Machine Learning?

Machine learning is a subfield of artificial intelligence (AI) concerned with algorithms that allow computers to learn. What this means, in most cases, is that an algorithm is given a set of data and infers information about the properties of the data—and that information allows it to make predictions about other data that it might see in the future. This is possible because almost all nonrandom data contains patterns, and these patterns allow the machine to generalize. In order to generalize, it trains a model with what it determines are the important aspects of the data.

To understand how models come to be, consider a simple example in the otherwise complex field of email filtering. Suppose you receive a lot of spam that contains the words “online pharmacy.” As a human being, you are well equipped to recognize patterns, and you quickly determine that any message with the words “online pharmacy” is spam and should be moved directly to the trash. This is a generalization—you have, in fact, created a mental model of what is spam. After you report several of these messages as spam, a machine-learning algorithm designed to filter spam should be able to make the same generalization.


  

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