Mozilla Explains: What Is AI?

What is AI? When you hear artificial intelligence (or AI) you probably assume it’s something … Read more Mozilla Explains: What Is AI?

Is machine learning something different?

The term “AI” gets thrown around a lot — it’s one of those phrases you see as a bullet point on the back of a toy box or hear in commercials for IBM’s Watson. There’s a chance you’ve heard terms like “algorithm” or even “machine learning model” a lot less. Algorithms power AI — they are the programs inside software that take in a bunch of information and crunch the numbers. A machine learning model is what ends up making the prediction.

An algorithm is a piece of software that can look at numerous pieces of information about a subject and classifies them. Then, when that algorithm is applied to a large set of what experts call training data, it produces a machine learning model. The model is what’s able to take in new data and make choices based on the data in front of it. Did your streaming service suggest to you your new favorite TV show? It was able to do that by collecting data points about you (what you’re watching, what device you’re on, what other people similar to you watch, etc.) and the streaming platform’s machine learning model spits out your new favorite show, Trashy Reality Show Season 2: Miami. (Though few would call you out if you used the term “AI” or “recommendation system” here instead of “machine learning model.”)

AI vs. Machine Learning Model

What does AI look like in the real world?

You’ve probably interacted with AI whether you’ve realized it or not. If you’ve scrolled through your Instagram feed and posts were arranged in you’ll-probably-Like-this order and not chronological order, that’s AI at work. Here’s where things get hairy: who you are, where you live, where you tend to go (IRL and online) and a whole host of other factors can influence the decision an AI system makes about you. Not in every case, but certainly in some. At times, it can affect which of your friends see that Facebook post you so passionately made. In other cases it can have a more dire effect, like determining what resources you receive from your local government.

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