Helping take informed decisions: Power of machine learning

By: Raju Iyer, Partner Group Engineering Manager, Microsoft India R & D

Progression of technology has actually reached to a limit where even the most complicated tasks have become achievable. This change is a result of advancement of computing and machine learning that has not only helped us understand from human behavior, but empowers us to predict business strategy, outcome of sporting events, solutions to healthcare and much more.

Deep structured learning combined with a better understanding of the human mind and data mining have enabled machines to effectively emulate humans in many tasks that were once thought to be reliant entirely on manual input. Striking examples of this include advances in speech recognition, computer vision etc. The once futuristic vision of self-driven cars is a reality now.

Understanding Machine Learning
Machine learning algorithms are built by utilizing vast volumes of historical data that are processed into a cloud. These algorithms process the data with rich visualization and analytics capabilities to derive actionable insights that would help make informed interventions in areas of concern. Machine Learning techniques work in a way similar to a how a human being learns. Most of human learning happens by watching patterns of behaviors and adapting to what people and situations around. Similarly, in Machine learning, training data provides the first set of labelled signals for learning followed by a reinforcement learning, a technology that is used to learn new patterns of behavior. It is after this level where deep learning techniques enable computers to analyze the data, observe patterns and empower the experts to understand and predict for various situations.

Machine Learning predictions in different scenarios
Have you noticed how a random online search by you keeps coming back every time you go online? This is possible with the capabilities of Machine learning for companies and consumers, both. The technology understands the behavior of consumers online using the historical data and pushes relevant recommendations to help consumers do an informed purchase. Similarly, it helps companies decide the price points for their products and assess the probabilities of success with better accuracy.

Similarly, Microsoft Bing with the help of machine learning has been predicting various sporting events with a great degree of accuracy. During the recent rugby world cup Bing predicted 50 matches with 87% accuracy, also the last world cup soccer we predicted 14 of the 16 matches accurately.

Virtual agents and Virtual Assistants
Another big success of Machine Learning advances are helping companies establish virtual agents on the web which will help navigate through certain tasks. These virtual agents address common concerns and escalate to a real human, as needed. Much like the self-driven cars that would take you to the desired destination, these agents help address various consumer grievances.

Anyone can assess the impact of these virtual agents by utilizing services of a personal/virtual assistant. Virtual assistant enables the user to draw his attention on important issues. These assistants can analyze conversations, emails, messages and push important notifications on to the screen. ‘Microsoft Cortana’, ‘Apple Siri’ and ‘Google Now’ have made significant progress in this direction by allowing you with alerts on travel, bill payment and other areas as the event/due date approaches. To be truly useful, it needs to understand everything you do and should be trustworthy (not miss any key event).

Machine learning advances have made us create virtual personalities like a human being. Microsoft Cortana, Xiaoice and Apple Siri are early attempts in this direction. These may not be perfect and are sometimes, unpredictable, however, but you might want to interact with them so that they evolve to become more efficient and helpful. For instance, the phone gathers from the predictable travel pattern (by correlating your phone’s GPS location with latitude/longitude of physical objects) and deduces your work and home location. Based on the pattern, it will alert you about the travel, every day. If, for any reason, the travel is delayed, it alerts you about it and asks you to adjust your travel. This will help the phone be an effective personal assistant helping you achieve your goals unobtrusively.

The use of smartphones in India is expected to rise upto 500M over the next five years. The increasing reliance on mobile devices to accomplish day to day work such as bill payments, reminders for important events, gain knowledge etc make it a primary source for communication. Given the scenario, machine learning is making great strides that will have a significant impact on life around us, both personally and professionally. The technology will only empower businesses to harness the opportunities more efficiently, while helping people to plan schedules better and empowering them to do more. The effort are being made to use the technology in certain areas such as weather forecast, preempting natural calamities which will be of great value.

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