The Machines are Learning, and You’re the Teacher

Machine learning, closely related to the concept of Artificial Intelligence, is about computer programs becoming more skilled at approximating human intelligence. Even if I wanted to dive into the distinctions between AI, machine learning and algorithms, (I cannot), the point is that machines are getting smarter and we’re helping.

Let’s take a moment to consider how we all are contributing to the process of computers becoming more capable and useful to helping us solve everyday tasks.

For example, how many of you have had your phone transcribe a voice message from a friend? My phone asks me to tell it how good a job it did of converting speech-to-text. When I give my phone service provider my feedback, it uses that data to perfect its software. In a similar way Amazon and Google are using their smart speakers to learn natural speech patterns by listening to the questions (and conversations) of millions of users around the world.

And how about Captchas? You’ve seen them when accessing websites that are trying to distinguish between humans and robots. Every time you provide your answer to a Captcha problem you are making the algorithm better.

Perhaps you are being asked to help the algorithm identify what a store front looks like. This kind of database might be used in future augmented reality products that provide walking tours of towns or cities that you’re visiting for the first time.

Here’s another example. Every time Facebook asks you to identify people in your photos, it is gradually getting better at facial recognition. It’s not just that its database of faces is growing, but it is learning how a face changes with different lighting, with different application of makeup or facial hair, and with the addition of accessories (glasses, hats, etc).

So, what does this have to do with mass media? Just this…the computer algorithms that are learning from us are the ones that will be providing customized content on a variety of platforms from social media sites to video games to streaming video services. Interactive media content is driven by computer technology and the software that gives it the appearance of intelligence. We just need to be smart enough to recognize what happening and, hopefully, stay one step ahead.

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