A Kind of A.I. Called Machine Learning Is Reshaping How We Live. It’s Time We Understood It.

Vertical section of human brain MRI scan, overlaid with a single-layer feed-forward artificial neural network. Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Images by Ultima_Gaina/Thinkstock and Akritasa/Wikimedia Commons. Computers and the algorithms they run are precise, perfect, meticulously programmed, and austere. That’s the idea, anyway. But there’s a burgeoning, alternative model of programming and computation that sidesteps the limitations of the classic model, embracing uncertainty, variability, self-correction, and overall messiness. It’s called machine learning, and it’s impacted fields as diverse as facial recognition, movie recommendations, real-time trading, and cancer research—as well as all manner of zany experiments, like Google’s image-warping Deep Dream. Yet even within computer science, machine learning is notably opaque. In his new book The Master Algorithm, Pedro Domingos covers the growing prominence of machine learning in close but accessible…


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