Future Work: Machine Learning in Businesses

Machine learning. No matter how much the nay-sayers will have you believe, it’s here to stay in a big way. In fact, it’s become so ubiquitous in how many contemporary businesses operate, that it’s often hard to realize where its being utilized.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it would do us well to recap just what machine learning is. As magical, mysterious, and somewhat blasphemous as it might sound, the core concept behind machine learning is quite simple: artificial intelligence is applied to databases, software, and executable roles to not only perform the set task, but to be able to gather and parse information to improve and optimize its own performance.

Obviously, the underlying technical details are incredibly complex, but the end-user experience of machine learning software is understood by most of the populace – if you’ve ever used an Amazon Echo, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. Alexa, the built-in AI, not only improves her voice recognition the longer that she listens to you, she’ll also shortlist your most-used commands to better suit the needs of your household.

But what about services other than Amazon’s plucky little AI? Well, they’re quite numerous and varied. If you’ve noticed that Facebook has started to suggest creating events or plugging in gifs to some of the messages you’ve sent over Messenger, that’s a direct result of the machine-learning that the company has implemented into their chatbot.

On the more physical-world front, there are services like Google’s automated cars, which improve their performance in road and debris detection the more they are put to use, and IBM’s Watson, which uses its incredible algorithm-crunching code to help parse the massive amount of information gathered through gene testing – letting doctors make a more precise diagnosis while also improving its performance all the time.

The applications to machine learning are limitless. In effect, they represent the peak of mechanical advancement: a self-improving machine. Of course, machine learning and AI have rightly attracted the worry of some of the world’s top minds – calling for care and regulation should a self-learning machine ever develop the capability to think for itself.

While there’s nothing to effectively discredit the possibility, we may be several years if not decades away from such an event. Now, self-improving algorithms pose more of a threat to workers who stand to lose their jobs to a machine rather than accessing the nuclear launch codes. Why hire a tech support representative for your company when you can just install an always-online AI that can assist your customers with a believable level of human intonation and even better performance?

Industries are only beginning to scratch the surface of the ocean that is machine learning, but if the rate of progression continues at the pace demonstrated thus far, we’re in for some incredibly exciting – and frightening – times ahead.

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