Web: Machine learning vs machine discovery

November 2015 by: From The Web

Machine learning is hot. Where it applies, it heatedly enables data-rich and knowledge-lean automation of valuable tasks of perception, classification and numeric prediction. Its sibling, machine discovery, deals with uncovering new knowledge that enlightens or guides human beings. Let’s consider where learning or discoverybest applies — and why this matters for business.

Years ago I was a machine-discovery researcher. Scholarly articles were published in the journal Machine Learning, and presentations were made at Machine Learning conferences, since it seemed that learning and discovery were similar human activities. As a (veteran) entrepreneur, I’m often asked whether a learning approach makes sense for automating some task, which motivated me to pen this piece. First, let’s call in some foundations.

A key idea in artificial intelligence (AI) is that intellectual work can be seen as heuristic search within a “problem space” that leads to solutions.

Consider the familiar task of a TV homicide detective who arrives to a dead body on the floor. A lousy detective gets the phone book and interviews people starting on page 1. A really lousy detective also considers space invaders and escaped baboons, and inquires with NASA and the local zoo to pursue those leads. They use bad heuristics.


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