Basic Principles of Machine Learning: A Practical Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 11 min read


  1. What is Machine Learning?
  2. Types of Machine Learning
  3. Supervised Learning
  4. Unsupervised Learning
  5. Semi-supervised Learning
  6. Reinforcement Learning
  7. How to choose the right algorithm
  8. Training, Testing, and Validating Data
  9. Overfitting and Underfitting
  10. How to implement Machine Learning algorithms

Ever wondered how your email filters out spam or how your phone's face recognition unlocks your device? Well, the answer lies in the basics of machine learning. It's a subject that might sound complex at first, but don't worry, we're going to break it down into bitesize pieces so that you can understand and maybe even start to love it as much as I do. So, let's take a first step into the fascinating world of machine learning.

What is Machine Learning?

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that allows software applications to become more accurate in predicting outcomes without being explicitly programmed to do so. In simple words, it's like teaching your computer to learn from the data it processes.

Imagine you're teaching a child to differentiate between cats and dogs. You'd show them several pictures of both, explaining the different features. Over time, the child begins to identify them correctly. This is somewhat similar to how machine learning works. The computer, like the child, learns from the data (or pictures) it's given. Machine learning algorithms use computational methods to “learn” information directly from data without relying on a predetermined equation as a model.

Let's break down the basics of machine learning into three parts:

  1. Learning from past experiences: It's like our human brain. We learn from our past experiences and apply that knowledge in the future. Similarly, machine learning algorithms learn from the past data and make predictions.
  2. Improving accuracy over time: The more data it processes, the better it gets. Just like how you get better at a game the more you play it, machine learning algorithms improve their predictions over time with more data.
  3. Automation: The best part? It all happens automatically. Once the algorithm is trained to make accurate predictions, it can process vast amounts of data and make predictions in real time without any human intervention.

So, there you have it—the basics of machine learning in a nutshell. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Machine learning is a vast field with various types, each with its own set of algorithms. We'll explore those next.

Types of Machine Learning

As we dive deeper into the basics of machine learning, it's important to understand that not all machine learning is created equal. There are different types, each with its unique approach and purpose. Think of it like ice cream, there are many different flavors, and everyone has their favorite. Similarly, in machine learning, the ideal 'flavor' or type depends on the specific problem you're trying to solve.

  1. Supervised Learning: This type is like a parent teaching a child how to walk. The algorithm is 'supervised' or trained using labeled data. Think of it as a learning process that happens under guidance. Once the model is trained, it can begin to make predictions or decisions when new data is given.
  2. Unsupervised Learning: This is the wild child of machine learning. It learns and makes decisions from the data without any supervision. It's used to draw inferences and find patterns from datasets consisting of input data without labeled responses.
  3. Semi-supervised Learning: As the name suggests, this type is a mix of supervised and unsupervised learning. The machine learns with a partially labeled dataset. When it encounters new data, it uses the learned knowledge to identify it.
  4. Reinforcement Learning: This is the type where software agents and machines automatically determine the ideal behavior within a context, to maximize its performance. Think of it like a game of chess, where every move is strategic and impacts the end result.

Each type of machine learning gives us a unique way to view and solve complex problems. It's like having different tools in a toolbox. You wouldn't use a hammer to screw in a nail, right? Similarly, understanding the different types of machine learning helps us choose the right 'tool' for our specific problem.

Supervised Learning

Let's take a closer look at supervised learning, one of the essential basics of machine learning. If machine learning were a school, supervised learning would be the traditional classroom setting. Much like a teacher guiding students, in supervised learning, we provide the algorithm with input-output pairs in the training data. The 'supervision' here is a set of examples that the algorithm can learn from.

Imagine you're showing a toddler different types of fruits, and each time you show them an apple, you say, "This is an apple." After a few rounds of this, the toddler starts to recognize apples on their own. This is how supervised learning works.

Now, you're probably wondering, "How is this useful?" Well, supervised learning has a wide range of applications:

  • Spam Detection: By training a model with emails labeled as 'spam' or 'not spam', it learns to filter out junk emails for you.
  • Image Recognition: It can identify objects in an image after learning from a set of images that are already labeled.
  • Weather Prediction: Using historical weather data, it can predict future weather conditions.

These are just a few examples, and the applications of supervised learning are only limited by our imagination. So, next time when your email inbox filters out a spam email, remember, that's supervised learning in action!

Unsupervised Learning

Unsupervised learning is another key concept in the basics of machine learning. It's a little more independent than supervised learning. Imagine you're at a party full of strangers. Naturally, you might start to group people based on shared traits—maybe you notice a bunch of people all talking about sports, or a group laughing at the same joke. That's kind of how unsupervised learning works.

Unlike supervised learning, where we provide the algorithm with labeled data, in unsupervised learning, the algorithm is given a bunch of data and left to its own devices to find structure. It's like giving a child a box of different fruits and letting them group them in any way they see fit—by color, size, or shape. The algorithm could find patterns that you might not have even thought of!

So, where can we use this cool approach? Here are a few examples:

  • Market Segmentation: Businesses use it to identify different groups of customers based on their shopping behavior or preferences.
  • Anomaly Detection: It can spot unusual patterns or outliers in data—this is super handy in detecting fraudulent transactions in banking.
  • Social Network Analysis: It can identify communities within social networks by clustering users with similar interests or behaviors.

And there you have it! That's a quick rundown of unsupervised learning. It's like a detective, uncovering hidden patterns and groups in data, and it's an important part of the basics of machine learning.

Semi-supervised Learning

Let's move on to the next concept in the basics of machine learning: semi-supervised learning. It's a bit of a middle ground between supervised and unsupervised learning. Think of it as a class field trip. The teacher (that's your supervised learning) is there to guide the group, but the kids (that's your unsupervised learning) also get some free time to explore on their own.

In semi-supervised learning, we use a small amount of labeled data with a large amount of unlabeled data. It is like having a big basket of fruits where only a few are labeled. The algorithm uses the labeled fruits as a guide to classify the rest.

Why would we want to do this? Well, labeling data can be a time-consuming and expensive process. If we can get good results with less labeled data, we can save a lot of time and money. Plus, semi-supervised learning can often improve accuracy over just using supervised or unsupervised learning alone.

Here are a few places where this approach shines:

  • Image and Speech Recognition: These systems often have a lot of data, but not all of it is labeled. Semi-supervised learning can help make sense of it all.
  • Medical Diagnoses: Doctors often have a lot of patient data, but not all of it is labeled with a diagnosis. Semi-supervised learning can help identify patterns and predict outcomes.
  • Web Content Classification: With so much content on the web, it's impossible to label it all. Semi-supervised learning can help categorize it in a meaningful way.

And that's semi-supervised learning in a nutshell! It leverages the strengths of both supervised and unsupervised learning, making it a valuable tool in the basics of machine learning toolkit.

Reinforcement Learning

Imagine you're playing a video game for the first time. You don't know the rules, but you start to figure them out by trying different things and seeing what works. This is a bit like reinforcement learning, another key part of the basics of machine learning.

In reinforcement learning, an agent learns to make decisions by taking actions in an environment to achieve a goal. The agent gets rewards or penalties for the actions it takes, and it learns to choose actions that increase the reward over time.

It's a bit like training a dog. If the dog does something good, you give it a treat. If it does something bad, you might say "no" or take away a privilege. Over time, the dog learns to do more of the good things and less of the bad things to get more treats and fewer penalties.

Reinforcement learning is especially useful in situations where we want to automate decision-making. Here are a few examples:

  • Robotics: Robots can use reinforcement learning to learn complex tasks, like navigating a room or picking up objects.
  • Game Playing: Reinforcement learning has been used to train computers to play games, including chess and Go, at a high level.
  • Resource Management: In fields like cloud computing or energy management, reinforcement learning can help optimize resource use.

So, in the world of machine learning basics, reinforcement learning is the adventurous one — always exploring, always learning, and always trying to maximize the reward. It's a powerful tool when you want your system to learn from experience and improve over time.

How to Choose the Right Algorithm

So, we've gone over the different types of machine learning, but how do you pick the right one for your project? Well, choosing the right algorithm is a bit like choosing the right tool for a job. You wouldn't use a hammer to screw in a bolt, right?

First, you need to understand your data and your goals. Are you trying to predict a specific outcome (like whether an email is spam or not)? That's a job for supervised learning. Do you have a lot of data but no specific outcome in mind? Unsupervised learning might be the best fit.

Here are a few more considerations:

  • Size of your data: Some algorithms work better with large amounts of data, while others are more suited to smaller datasets.
  • Quality of your data: Is your data noisy, or is it clean and well-structured? Different algorithms handle noise and outliers in different ways.
  • Speed and resources: Some algorithms take longer to run or require more computing power. Do you need quick results, or can you afford to wait?

And remember, it's not always about finding the "best" algorithm. Sometimes, it's about finding the one that's "good enough" and gets the job done. So, don't be afraid to try different things and see what works. After all, that's what machine learning is all about!

Choosing the right algorithm can be a challenge, especially when you're starting out with the basics of machine learning. But with a good understanding of your data and your goals, you can make an informed decision and get your machine learning project off to a great start.

Training, Testing, and Validating Data

Now that we've chosen our algorithm, we're ready to train it. But what does that mean? Well, it's kind of like teaching a puppy to sit. You show the puppy what to do, reward it when it gets it right, and correct it when it gets it wrong. Over time, the puppy learns to sit on command.

In the same way, we teach our algorithms to make accurate predictions by giving them a set of data—known as the training data—and letting them learn from it. And just like with our puppy, we need to check if they have learned correctly. This is where testing and validating data come in.

  • Training Data: This is the data that we use to teach our algorithm. It's like the instructions for our puppy.
  • Testing Data: We use this data to check if our algorithm has learned correctly. It's like asking our puppy to sit and seeing if it does.
  • Validating Data: This data is used to fine-tune our algorithm and make sure it's ready for real-world use. It's like making sure our puppy will sit even when there are distractions around.

So, it's a three-step process: train, test, and validate. And it's important to keep these steps separate. If you test your algorithm on the same data you trained it on, you might think it's doing great when it's actually just memorizing the answers!

So, let's take our algorithm for a walk and see how it does. Remember, the basics of machine learning are all about learning from data and making accurate predictions. And that starts with good training, thorough testing, and careful validation.

Overfitting and Underfitting

Coming to grips with the basics of machine learning also means understanding the concepts of overfitting and underfitting. Think about it like this: when we put on a pair of gloves, we want them to fit just right. If they're too loose, they won't keep our hands warm. If they're too tight, they'll restrict our movements. The same goes for machine learning models.

  • Overfitting: This happens when our model fits the training data too well. It's like a glove that's too tight. The model is so focused on the training data that it can't adapt to unseen data. It's like a student who memorizes the answers without understanding the concepts. Sure, they might ace the test, but put them in a real-world situation, and they'll struggle.
  • Underfitting: This is when our model doesn't fit the training data well enough. It's like a glove that's too loose. The model isn't able to pick up on the patterns in the data, and so it performs poorly even on the training data. It's like a student who hasn't studied enough. They won't do well on the test, and they'll definitely struggle in the real world.

So, how can you avoid these problems? Well, that's where validation comes in. By using a separate validation dataset, you can fine-tune your model to find the right balance between overfitting and underfitting.

Remember, the key to mastering the basics of machine learning is to understand the data, choose the right model, and tune it correctly. And always keep in mind, the goal is to create a model that can adapt and perform well with new, unseen data. That's the sign of a well-fitted model!

How to Implement Machine Learning Algorithms

So, you've got a handle on the basics of machine learning and you're ready to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. But where do you start? Here's a simple, step-by-step guide to help you implement machine learning algorithms.

  1. Understand Your Problem: Before you start coding, take a moment to understand the problem you're trying to solve. Are you predicting a number? Classifying an image? Every problem requires a different approach.
  2. Choose the Right Algorithm: Now that you understand your problem, it's time to choose an algorithm. Remember, the algorithm is like the engine that powers your machine learning model. It's important to choose one that fits your problem and your data.
  3. Prepare Your Data: Machine learning algorithms are a bit like chefs - they work best with high-quality ingredients. So, take the time to clean your data, deal with missing values, and normalize numerical values.
  4. Train Your Model: This is where the magic happens. Feed your algorithm with your prepared data and let it learn. This is like teaching a toddler how to walk - it takes time and patience.
  5. Test and Validate Your Model: Now that your model is trained, it's time to see how well it learned. Use testing and validation data to measure performance. Remember what we said about overfitting and underfitting? This is where you check for those.
  6. Improve Your Model: Based on your test results, you might need to tweak your model. Maybe you need to choose a different algorithm, or perhaps you need to collect more data. It's all part of the process.

That's it! You've just learned how to implement machine learning algorithms. Remember, the journey to master the basics of machine learning is a marathon, not a sprint. So, take your time, enjoy the process, and keep learning!

If you found the "Basic Principles of Machine Learning: A Practical Guide" blog post insightful and want to delve deeper into the world of machine learning, check out Ansh Mehra's workshop, 'Midjourney AI: Beginners Crash Course.' This workshop is designed for beginners and will provide a solid foundation for understanding the core concepts and techniques used in machine learning.