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That sci-fi moment you’ve been waiting for is here: Some machines are already learning on their own and even learning to program themselves. This lively, necessary report from computer science professor Pedro Domingos shows you what this transformation does for science and what it will do for human society. Machine learning is complex and the subject is conceptually dense, but Domingos explains it with clear love for his topic. He details how computers came to learn on their own; how learning algorithms function; and how competing theories of thinking and learning work. His vivid writing, anecdotes and examples help make the topic more accessible than you might expect (though the reader may have to do some heavy lifting). Domingos explains a lot, but sometimes relies too much on his illustrations. getAbstract recommends his treatise to anyone interested in how computers are revolutionizing society, in “machine learning” or in scientific development.


The “Machine Learning Revolution”

You interact with “machine learning” every day. When Netflix suggests a movie or a search engine completes your query, that’s machine learning in action. This is revolutionary. Throughout history, if you wanted a machine to do something, you had to build it to do just that thing. For computers, you wrote a detailed algorithm explaining how it should do what you want it to.

“Machine-learning algorithms,” or “learners,” work differently. Computerized learners figure things out by themselves. Computers that are “learners” can “program themselves.” Give them data, and they learn. The more data they have, the more effectively they think. This unprecedented development will revolutionize society. Machine learning is already transforming fields from politics to DNA sequencing.

Understanding machine learning starts by becoming familiar with the term “algorithm.” Algorithms are “precise and unambiguous” instructions that tell computers exactly “what to do.” Designing algorithms is difficult, time-consuming and often counterintuitive. When programmers and computer scientists succeed in writing good algorithms, they build on each other’...

About the Author

Winner of the SIGKDD Innovation Award, Pedro Domingos is a professor of computer science at the University of Washington and a fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. Readers can download the MLN learner “Alchemy” at alchemy.cs.washington.edu.

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