A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Artificial Intelligence

When you’re a small business owner, it can be hard to keep up to date with all of the latest “hype”, particularly when it comes to buzzwords like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). That said, spending some time to learn about these concepts is less about grappling with a sci-fi future (we’re not at i-Robot just yet) and more about leveraging tools available today to scale and enhance our businesses (think chatbots, personalised recommendations, stock predictions, automated fraud detection)  What we’re talking about in this blog is not creating an algorithm that can reason, rather using tools that can help with repetitive tasks; understand customer behaviour, analyse market trends and support marketing campaigns.  To achieve this, I thought I’d write a short introduction to demystify some of the terms around AI.   

Let’s start with what is AI?  At its core, AI is a broad area that fundamentally tries to create human thinking and learning within computer programmes so they can perform tasks human do, such as problem-solving, pattern recognition, and decision-making by themselves. 

Machine Learning is a subset of AI based around the use of data to train computer to programmes, that is the computer programme learns from data so it can identify patterns (that humans may not be able to determine) and make “decisions” such as “if this, then…”  What a ML code can’t do is work outside of its training data, it can’t learn by itself.   

So what is the key terminology you need to know about when starting out in AI and ML?  My suggestion is that you start with:  

Algorithm: A set of rules or instructions given to a computer programme to help it learn on its own. 

Neural Network: Is a series of algorithms that tries to recognise underlying relationships in data through a process which mimics the human brain. 

Deep Learning: Uses many layers of neural networks to learn from data. 

Natural Language Processing: Uses algorithms to analyse, understand and respond to text based data.

Remember, the goal is not to replace the human touch in business but to enhance our capabilities and efficiency. Embracing automation and the power of computation is about supporting our workflow with tools that can process data at a speed and accuracy we cannot match.  Simply put it helps us innovate, improve, and inspire. 

Dr Sophie Carr

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