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The simplest explanation of machine learning you’ll ever read

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You’ve probably heard of machine learning and artificial intelligence, but are you sure you know what they are? If you’re struggling to make sense of them, you’re not alone. There’s a lot of buzz that makes it hard to tell what’s science and what’s science fiction. Starting with the names themselves…

Machine learning is a thing-labeler, essentially.

I’m a statistician and neuroscientist by training, and we statisticians have a reputation for picking the driest, most boring names for things. We like it to do exactly what it says on the tin. You know what we would have named machine learning? The Labelling of Stuff!

Contrary to popular belief, machine learning is not a magical box of magic, nor is it the reason for $30bn in VC funding. At its core, machine learning is just a thing-labeler, taking your description of something and telling you what label it should get. Which sounds much less interesting than what you read on Hacker News. But would you have gotten excited enough to read about this topic if we’d called it thing-labeling in the first place? Probably not, which goes to show that a bit of marketing and dazzle can be useful for getting this technology the attention it deserves (though not for the reasons you might think).

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