Monday, March 1, 2010

Should We Let Computers Learn For Us?

I'm currently taking a machine learning class where I learn different algorithms to get a program to learn a task. I find it fascinating how you can give a program some data, and after training itself on that data, it would then be able to correctly determine the answer on an instance it hasn't seen before. But things like machine learning sometimes bring up the question, "Will we become dumber by having computers do everything?" In some of the small examples I've gone through in class, you can find the answer by hand faster than setting up a computer to do it. Computers aren't needed for small problems, but what about the big ones? An article about predicting threats in cybersecurity talks about Lockheed Martin "processing 1 million 'incidents' a day" to find high-risk activities in cybersecurity. The article doesn't say, but chances are they're using software that's similar to what I'm learning in class to find their answers. When it comes to looking at millions of data, machine learning software is indispensable, especially when the answers can help protect us. Yes, using a calculator to tell you the answer to 2 + 2 could make you dumber, but using technology to tell you the answer to something that would take weeks or months or to do by hand can only help us.

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