Ap­ple’s ma­chine learn­ing ad­vances

You’ve prob­a­bly heard about ma­chine learn­ing – but what is it, and how is it chang­ing your Ap­ple kit?

Mac Format - - APPLE CORE - writ­ten by ALEX BLAKE

The phrase ‘ma­chine learn­ing’ con­jures up im­ages of fu­tur­is­tic tech that wouldn’t look out of place next to Sarah Con­nor. But de­spite its re­cent emer­gence at Ap­ple events and in the high-tech press, it’s ac­tu­ally been around for a long time. The way an email app’s spam-de­tec­tion func­tion im­proves over time is one ex­am­ple. A com­puter game learn­ing the most ef­fec­tive way to get a high score is an­other.

So what is ma­chine learn­ing, and how is it dif­fer­ent from sim­i­lar terms, such as ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence? Put sim­ply, ma­chine learn­ing is where a com­puter learns how to solve a prob­lem us­ing co­pi­ous amounts of data. The com­puter learns this not by re­ly­ing on code cre­ated by a hu­man for that pur­pose, but by learn­ing from pre­vi­ous ex­am­ples.

There are cer­tain crossovers with data min­ing, but they are dif­fer­ent. Both utilise huge amounts of in­for­ma­tion, but data min­ing in­volves scour­ing that data for cer­tain matches (cre­at­ing a list of Ap­ple Stores in the UK, for ex­am­ple), while ma­chine learn­ing in­volves teach­ing a ma­chine some­thing new based on that in­for­ma­tion. Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, on the other hand, is an um­brella term for ma­chines be­ing able to carry out tasks that would be con­sid­ered in­tel­li­gent were they done by a hu­man.

Ap­ple has made much of its prod­ucts’ ma­chine learn­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties in re­cent years. You may have heard it boast of the iPhone’s Siri Short­cuts or aug­mented re­al­ity tal­ents, or how the Quick­Type key­board utilises this tech to give you bet­ter sug­ges­tions as you type. All of th­ese fea­tures rely on ma­chine learn­ing to not only do what they do, but to im­prove over time as well.

This all sounds very in-depth and po­ten­tially con­fus­ing, so how will it ac­tu­ally ben­e­fit you? Ap­ple wants it all to ap­pear very much un­der the hood – if you didn’t pay at­ten­tion to Ap­ple’s ma­chine learn­ing ad­vance­ments at its re­cent

events, you may not even know about them. All the com­pli­cated com­pu­ta­tional learn­ing is go­ing on be­hind the scenes, cre­at­ing sys­tems and pro­cesses that ap­pear sim­ple on the sur­face.

Play­ing phone tag

Take the tag­ging ca­pa­bil­ity of the Pho­tos app, for ex­am­ple. In the past you’d have to re­mem­ber to tag all your pho­tos ap­pro­pri­ately if you wanted to find them in search re­sults. If you for­got, you’d have a choice be­tween tag­ging po­ten­tially thou­sands of pic­tures or sim­ply ig­nor­ing the tag­ging fea­ture al­to­gether. Now, all of that is done by the iPhone it­self, with no in­put re­quired from you at all.

Your de­vice learns what is in each photo – and gets pro­gres­sively bet­ter at do­ing so – with the end re­sult be­ing that your pho­tos are es­sen­tially auto-tagged by your iPhone, so you can search for ‘beach’ or ‘dog’, say. Here, com­plex be­hind-thescenes tech sim­pli­fies the process for you.

Here’s an­other ex­am­ple. On 30 July 2014, Ap­ple switched Siri’s voice recog­ni­tion to a ma­chine learn­ing-based sys­tem in an at­tempt to im­prove its ac­cu­racy. “The er­ror rate has been cut by a fac­tor of two in all the lan­guages, more than a fac­tor of two in many cases,” said Alex Acero, Siri se­nior di­rec­tor at Ap­ple. And it’s not only er­ror re­duc­tion in Siri that has ben­e­fit­ted from ma­chine learn­ing. Be­fore you in­voke the dig­i­tal as­sis­tant, it’s lis­ten­ing out for the “Hey Siri” trig­ger phrase. A deep neu­ral net­work con­verts the au­dio sig­nals from your voice into a prob­a­bil­ity score to de­cide whether you did in fact ut­ter the trig­ger phrase. If it be­lieves that you did, Siri starts up.

The Ap­ple Pen­cil also re­lies on ma­chine learn­ing in its ‘palm re­jec­tion’ tech­nol­ogy,

IBM claims its Sum­mit su­per­com­puter is the fastest com­puter in the world. It solves ad­vanced prob­lems us­ing ma­chine learn­ing.

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