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AI and Machine Learning: What They Are and How They Differ

With the advent of tools like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, terms 'Artificial Intelligence' (AI) and 'Machine Learning' (ML) appear to be well on their way to becoming the tech buzzwords of the decade. However, they are often used interchangeably, leading to a great deal of confusion. Indeed, despite their interconnectedness, these two concepts have distinct definitions, implications, and use cases.

In this article, we delve into the nuanced world of AI and Machine Learning. We briefly discuss what they are, how they’re related, and how they differ. Here’s what we cover:

What Is Artificial Intelligence (AI)? An Overview.

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, broadly refers to the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, and especially computer systems. These processes include learning, reasoning, problem-solving, perception, and language understanding.

Broadly speaking, AI can be classified into two types: Narrow AI and General AI. Let’s look at these one at a time.

What Is Narrow AI?

Narrow AI solutions are designed to perform narrow tasks, such as voice recognition. This type of AI operates under a limited context and can't outperform humans in tasks for which they weren't programmed. A familiar example is virtual personal assistants like Apple's Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. However, other use cases include:

  • Recommendation systems used by e-commerce platforms, streaming services, and social media platforms.
  • Spam filters found on email clients and messaging platforms.
  • Image recognition systems capable of identifying objects and people within images or videos.
  • Language translation services, like Google Translate, that use AI algorithms to translate text or speech from one language to another.

What Is General AI (AGI)?

AGI is significantly more complex than narrow AI, and no true AGI currently exists. Nevertheless it’s the vision of AI that typically captures the public imagination and one that remains the subject of a good deal of research and debate. It refers to systems or devices which can handle any intellectual task that a human being can. They can understand, learn, adapt, and implement knowledge in a wide array of activities.

In addition, a key hallmark of AGI is the ability for self-improvement. It's theorized that once a true AGI is created, it will dwarf human intelligence and capacity for intelligence in only a few generations, which could only take a year or less.

In order for AI to be considered “general”, it must be capable of:

  • Contextual understanding, or the ability to understand and interpret information in a wide range of contexts (i.e. texts, articles, books, etc.)
  • Flexible problem solving, including the ability to solve complex, novel problems across multiple domains (i.e. data analysis, solution development, etc.).
  • Creative output, meaning it must be able to generate original works of literature, music, art, etc. For this, it must be able to understand and leverage aesthetics, emotions, and cultural context to produce unique and compelling creations.
  • Self-learning and adaptation, including learning from new experiences and adapting its knowledge and skills accordingly.
  • Cross-domain expertise. Unlike narrow AI, general AI should possess expertise across multiple fields.
  • Social and emotional intelligence, including the ability to comprehend and navigate social situations, understand emotions, and exhibit empathy.
  • Autonomous decision-making, meaning it must have the capability to make complex decisions by considering multiple factors, weighing trade-offs, and understanding long-term consequences.

What Is Machine Learning (ML)? A Subset of AI.

Now let’s turn to Machine Learning. ML is a subset of AI that’s focused specifically on enabling machines to receive datasets and learn for themselves. They are typically capable of adjusting their algorithms as they learn more about the information they are processing.

In a nutshell, ML is a method of training algorithms to learn from the data they receive and enabling them to make decisions or predictions based on that data. Machine Learning models are designed to improve their performance as the amount of data they're exposed to increases.

An excellent example of ML is Netflix's recommendation algorithms. These algorithms analyze a user's viewing history, compare it to millions of other user histories, and suggest films or shows the user might like.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning — What’s the Difference?

The most significant difference between Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is their scope. AI is a broader concept that involves machines mimicking human abilities, while ML is a specific approach to AI that involves the creation of algorithms that allow machines to learn from data. A good way to think about it is to imagine Artificial Intelligence as a car and Machine Learning as the engine that powers it. Without the engine (ML), the car (AI) won't run.

Another key difference between AI and ML lies in their capabilities. An AI system's goal is to simulate natural intelligence to solve complex problems. It aims to enhance machine performance, giving it the ability to improve automatically through experience. On the other hand, ML models are designed to make accurate predictions or decisions based on data without being explicitly programmed to carry out the task.

It’s also worth noting that while Machine Learning is one of the most effective ways to build AI systems, it's not the only way to do so. Other techniques include:

  • Rule-based systems, which are predicated on predefined rules or logical statements. These systems use explicit knowledge and a set of if-then rules to make decisions or provide solutions to problems within a specific domain.
  • Evolutionary computation, which draws inspiration from the principles of biological evolution to solve complex optimization and search problems.
  • Swarm intelligence, which is the application of principles and algorithms inspired by the collective behavior of social insect colonies or other self-organizing systems to solve problems or optimize solutions.


Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are two sides of the same coin. While they are distinct concepts with different applications, they overlap significantly. Machine Learning, as a subset of AI, has helped the latter to evolve from a far-fetched science fiction concept to a daily reality.

Both AI and ML have vast potential in multiple industries, including healthcare, finance, transportation, and entertainment. They promise to revolutionize how we live, work, and play. Understanding the difference between the two is vital for anyone involved in the technology sector, as both AI and ML are beginning to transform the world at an unprecedented pace.

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