Artificial intelligence, machine learning and neural networks have seen their share of exposure in the past few years, but, as we’ve witnessed, their impact on our everyday, along with the exponential amounts of data we are harnessing that feeds them, is only beginning.
We may read about IBM’s cognitive computing system Watson taking on the healthcare system, or about Google’s humanoid robot taking its first steps outdoors, but we may struggle to understand what these advances mean to us.
“The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World” is a good introduction to this topic. Machine learning algorithms increasingly affect our lives. They find movies, books, dates and jobs for us. “The Master Algorithm” explains how these algorithms work by learning from the trails of data we leave in the digital space. Like small children, they watch us, try to find patterns and experiment.
Author Pedro Domingos explains there’s an ongoing race to invent the ultimate learning algorithm, capable of discovering so much from data that it understands what we want before we even know it. This can be compared to finding one math formula that solves all problems. Machine learning is the automation of discovery — the scientific method on steroids — that enables intelligent robots and computers to make predictions based on previously known observations and human programming.
It’s a field shrouded in mystery and Domingos’ book helps to lift the veil and give us a peek inside of the learning machines that power the world’s largest platforms and your smartphone. In addition, he charts a course through machine learning’s five major schools of thought, showing how they turn ideas from neuroscience, evolution, psychology, physics, and statistics into algorithms ready to serve you.
The real value of this book is how well each major learning algorithm is described while coupled with real life and identifiable use case examples. “The Master Algorithm” is a valuable introduction to a technical subject. While its futuristic claims should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s a thought-provoking guide to technology that affects us all.