What is machine learning?

machine learning

Welcome to the fascinating world of machine learning! If you’ve ever wondered how Netflix knows just what movie to recommend, how your email filters out spam, or how self-driving cars navigate traffic, you’re in the right place. Machine learning, a subfield of artificial intelligence, lies behind these innovations and many more, transforming how we live, work, and play.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the essence of machine learning, explore its history, walk through different types of machine learning methods, and highlight its applications in various fields. We’ll also discuss why it is such a crucial technology today, and how it can be categorized to address different problems. 

So, whether you’re new to the topic or looking to brush up on your knowledge, let’s dive in!

apprentissage automatique machine learning

Photo by @Pixabay

Machine learning: definition

It is a subfield of artificial intelligence (AI) that focuses on the development of computer algorithms that can learn and improve from experience or data. It involves the use of statistical techniques to enable computers to ‘learn’ from the data, and progressively improve performance on specific tasks without being explicitly programmed to carry out the task. This learning process leads to the ability of the ML model to make accurate predictions or decisions, without human intervention.

How Does This Work?

At its core, the process involves a machine learning model learning from a given data set. Data scientists supply this data, which could be labeled data (for supervised learning), unlabeled data (for unsupervised learning), or a combination of both (for semi-supervised learning). The ML system uses this input data to create and refine a model that can make predictions or identify patterns in new data.

Machine learning methods can be classified into three primary types: supervised machine learning, unsupervised machine learning, and reinforcement learning.

History of Machine Learning

The concept of machines learning from data has roots dating back to the mid-20th century. However, the history of machine learning as a distinct field started in the late 1980s. It developed alongside and often overlapped with AI and neural networks, with the term “machine learning” and “Artificial Intelligence” sometimes used interchangeably. Over time, with the increasing amount of data and computational power, machine learning has become a vital field, giving birth to advanced subfields like deep learning.

The different Types of Machine Learning

Supervised Machine Learning

It requires labeled training data, meaning each data point in the training data set comes with a corresponding output value or label. Algorithms in supervised learning, such as Support Vector Machines and neural networks, use this labeled data to learn a function that maps input data to output data. 

Examples of supervised learning include image recognition and email spam filtering.

Unsupervised Machine Learning

It involves learning from unlabeled data. Here, the ML algorithm looks for patterns or structures within the data. Clustering algorithms and classification algorithms are common types of unsupervised machine learning algorithms used to group similar data points together or categorize data, respectively.

Reinforcement Learning

It is a feedback-based learning system where the machine learning model learns to make decisions by interacting with its environment. The learning algorithm learns from the consequences of its actions, adjusting its strategy to maximize a reward signal.

Here’s a table that outlines the key differences between supervised, unsupervised, and reinforcement learning: 

Type of Machine Learning


Input Data

Use Cases


Supervised Learning

Algorithms learn a mapping function from input to output based on labeled training data.

Labeled data: both input and expected output.

Regression, Classification, Forecasting

Spam detection, Image recognition, Price prediction

Unsupervised Learning

Algorithms find hidden patterns or intrinsic structures in input data.

Unlabeled data: input data without any expected output.

Clustering, Dimensionality Reduction, Anomaly Detection

Customer segmentation, Recommender systems, Detecting credit card fraud

Reinforcement Learning

An agent learns to behave in an environment by performing actions and receiving rewards.

Rewards based on the actions taken.

Decision Process, Learning Tasks, Navigation

Game AI, Autonomous vehicles, Learning to play chess

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How to use Machine Learning

The applications are plentiful and have become an integral part of our daily lives. Artificial intelligence applications use machine learning algorithms for tasks such as voice recognition, product recommendations, financial market analysis, and more. Machine learning technology also powers advanced systems like autonomous vehicles, machine translation services, and sophisticated data analysis techniques.

Machine learning can use massive amounts of data, often referred to as big data, to learn and make accurate predictions. This ability to handle and learn from large data sets has made this technology indispensable in many fields.

Here is a video that explains the application of ML👇

Why is it important? 

  • Handling Massive Data: In today’s world, we generate a huge amount of data every second. ML algorithms can efficiently handle, process, and interpret this massive amount of data (often called “Big Data”), transforming it into valuable insights.
  • Automation and Efficiency: Machine learning can automate a wide variety of tasks in various industries. It eliminates the need for explicit programming, thereby saving time and reducing the chances of human error. It also allows systems to adapt and improve over time, leading to increased efficiency.
  • Personalization: It allows for a high level of personalization in real-time. This is evident in recommendation systems like those used by Netflix, Amazon, and Spotify, which analyze user behavior and provide tailored suggestions accordingly.
  • Predictive Capabilities: Machine learning algorithms can predict trends and behaviors by learning from past data. This capability is crucial in many sectors such as finance (for predicting stock market trends), healthcare (for predicting disease outbreaks), and e-commerce (for predicting consumer behavior).
  • Improved Decision Making: It can improve decision making by providing accurate data analysis and predictive analytics. Businesses can use these insights to make strategic decisions.
  • Innovation and New Services: Machine learning is at the heart of many innovative technologies and services. For instance, it powers voice assistants like Siri and Alexa, autonomous vehicles, and advanced facial recognition systems.

Use cases

  • Healthcare: It is used to predict disease outbreaks, analyze patient data for risk assessment, and even aid in the development of personalized treatment plans.
  • Finance: In the financial sector, machine learning algorithms are used for credit scoring, algorithmic trading, fraud detection, and customer segmentation.
  • Retail: This technology is used for personalized product recommendations, predicting customer purchasing behavior, inventory management, and optimizing pricing strategies.
  • Transportation: Self-driving cars use machine learning algorithms to understand their surroundings, make decisions, and navigate roads safely. Machine learning is also used in optimizing delivery routes and predicting maintenance in vehicles.
  • Marketing: Companies use machine learning to segment their customer base, personalize advertising campaigns, and predict customer churn.
  • Cybersecurity: Machine learning algorithms help in detecting unusual activities, potential threats, and system vulnerabilities to prevent cyber-attacks.
  • Entertainment: Companies like Netflix and Spotify use ML algorithms to provide personalized recommendations to users based on their previous activity.


In conclusion, machine learning, a crucial subfield of AI, plays a pivotal role in transforming vast amounts of data into valuable insights, enabling automation, personalization, and improved decision-making across industries. From its diverse methods – supervised, unsupervised, and reinforcement learning – to its myriad applications, machine learning is truly revolutionizing our world. As we look forward, the growing sophistication and evolution of machine learning promise even more exciting advancements that will continue to shape our future.

If you want to learn more about artificial intelligence, you can read our other articles : 

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