How Machine Learning Supports Business

Helping Organisations Do More of What They Do Best Better 

AI and Machine learning is a big conversation at the moment.

It’s important to take the science fiction conversations with a pinch of salt and consider the kinds of intelligence that a machine can use to provide more value. 

The phrase Artificial Intelligence comes with plenty of emotional baggage attached to it, and for that we have the novelists and filmmakers to thank. From Isaac Asimov and the Three Laws of Robotics to Data’s ongoing quest to become more “human” in Star Trek: The Next Generation, to the question of who, or what, is really in control of the Turing test in Alex Garland’s directorial debut Ex Machina.

One work of fiction which, while by no means a high-brow classic, is nevertheless worthy of mention was a fun outing from the 1980s entitled Short Circuit. While the film itself was largely aimed at children, the “robot that becomes self-aware and fears death” theme appears yet again. However, the most pertinent aspect is the robot’s constant request for “input.” This strikes a chord with today’s business software developers. “Input” – better known as data – is one thing we have plenty of in 2018.

More input 

In the early 1980s, absorbing input meant watching television and reading an entire set of encyclopaedias in a matter of minutes. And as Number Five absorbed more, it became smarter, and was able to make decisions based both on its acquired knowledge and its experiences.

As both the volume of data and the power to process it has grown, what was harmless science fiction 30 years ago is evolving into technological reality today. It is easy to get derailed by the philosophical debates surrounding what it means to know and learn and to lose sight of what AI and machine learning is designed to do. And that is to support businesses to make better, smarter and faster decisions on the basis of the data that is available to them.

Objective IT works closely with some of the most respected experts at Microsoft, who are at the forefront of machine learning development. One such expert is Phil Harvey, Cloud Solution Architect for Data and AI, One Commercial Partner, who has published a number of highly readable and incisive articles that cut to the core of AI and machine learning.

From calculators to virtual doctors – AI makes life easier 

To understand what AI is, and more to the point what it is not, it helps to consider examples. Take the simple pocket calculator. Does it detract from our ability to carry out long division or multiply two large numbers together? Not at all, but what it does achieve is to perform the calculation faster and with precision, leaving us to do something more productive with our brains than sit poring over calculations for ten minutes.

Now consider a doctor seeking to diagnose a patient with an unknown illness. He will assess the symptoms, the patient’s background and previous similar cases. The latter, in particular, could take hours, and if he is being methodical, he might only read four or five case files in that time.

The application for machine learning here is clear. The AI is not “replacing” the doctor, but on the basis of these three input streams it can clearly make a faster and more accurate diagnosis than any human could achieve. Again, the doctor has hours of time freed up to spend in more useful activities.

Machine learning is still developing every day. The philosophical debates might make for compelling television, but the material benefits are plain to see and can be applied to any business.