Machine learning is one of the premier buzzwords in not just the technology sector today, but across industry verticals. Before we dig into how machine learning algorithms are making businesses smarter than ever before though, lets attempt to tie down a working definition for the technology.

It is a subset of the umbrella technology discipline known as artificial intelligence (AI). The idea behind all of this technology is to grant computers a degree of independent thought and problem-solving skill, without the need for a developer or engineer to step in and tweak any code.

This is achieved by giving the machine large volumes of data that an algorithm can process and then learn from in order to make predictions and decisions for which it hasn’t been specifically programmed.

This is slightly different to deep learning – another popular term in the world of AI – which is a type of machine learning inspired by the connections between neurons in the human brain. Here, researchers develop a man-made imitation of this biological connectivity known as artificial neural networks (known as neural nets).

When it comes to the enterprise, machine learning is an established technology, finally catching up after its early heyday, when IBM’s Deep Blue mastered chess in 1997, firmly putting the technology on the map.

Most early use cases have been rooted in creating recommendation engines and personalizing e-commerce offerings, as pioneered and perfected by the likes of Amazon and, as you will see later on in this guide, travel metasearch engine Expedia. However, using machine learning for fraud detection, cybersecurity and even trading on the stock market has also proved useful for large financial institutions.

Now the technology is starting to hit the mainstream, as cloud technology providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud look to make it easier for businesses to adopt machine learning capabilities in the cloud, without having to find their own experts and build their own solutions from scratch.

We run through some of the best tools for businesses to look at when attempting to adopt machine learning, how vendors like Google are bringing the technology into the mainstream, and some examples of UK enterprises using machine learning to optimize existing business processes, or even create whole new lines of business off the back of the technology. 

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