Ever since machine learning and artificial intelligence (A.I.) became mainstream, there has been a lot of confusion between the two and how they relate to data science. Considering how superficial the mainstream understanding of the subject is, it's no wonder that many people who first learn about data science consider them the same. However, if you are to learn data science in-depth and do something useful with it, it's best to know how to differentiate between the two and know when to use what, for the problem at hand.
To disambiguate the two, let’s look at what each one of them is. First all, machine learning is a set of methodologies involving a data-driven approach to data modeling as well as the evaluation of the data at hand. It includes various models like decision trees, support vector machines, etc. as well as a series of heuristics. The latter is used for assessing features or models in a way that's void of any assumptions about the distributions of the data involved. Machine learning sometimes makes use of basic Stats but it is a separate field altogether, part of the core of data science. Some machine learning models are based on A.I. though most of them are not.
As for artificial intelligence, it is a field separate from data science altogether. It involves systems that emulate sentient behavior, in various domains. Computer Vision, for example, is a part of A.I. that involves interpreting images (usually captured by a camera or a video stream) to understand what objects are in the vicinity. Natural Language Processing (NLP) involves looking at a piece of text and working out what it is about or even synthesizing text on the same topic. Naturally, there is an overlap between A.I. and machine learning (as in the case of deep learning models), though this is fairly limited. For example, advanced optimization methods are a key application of A.I. that has nothing to do with machine learning per se, even if it is sometimes employed in the more advanced models.
Beyond the differences that emerge from the above descriptions of the two fields, there are a few more that's worth keeping in mind. Namely, machine learning models can often be interpreted, at least to some extent. On the other hand, (modern) A.I. models are black boxes, at least for the time being. What's more, machine learning models come in a variety of types, while A.I. ones are graph-based. Additionally, A.I. has a more diverse range of applications, while machine learning is limited to specific ways that are related to data science work. Finally, in machine learning, you need to do some data engineering before you work your models, while in A.I. it's rarely the case (even though it can be very helpful).
If you are interested in this topic (particularly classical machine learning), you learn more about it through my book Julia for Machine Learning, published last Spring. This book is very hands-on, having plenty of examples that illustrate how machine learning methods work, be if for data engineering or data modeling tasks. The language used (Julia) is an up-and-coming data science language that boasts several packages under the machine learning umbrella. In this book, we explore the most important of them, which have stood the test of time. Check it out when you have the chance. Cheers!
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Zacharias Voulgaris, PhD
Passionate data scientist with a foxy approach to technology, particularly related to A.I.