Machine Learning Types: The AI Powered Tools to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

Machine Learning Types: The AI Powered Tools to Know (2023)<br />

Machine Learning Types

Imagine you’re teaching a child how to ride a bike. Initially, you help by holding the bike steady, guiding them with directions. With practice, they learn to balance and maneuver it on their own. This progression, from guided learning to self-sufficiency, illustrates the essence of Machine Learning (ML). Intriguing, isn’t it? Let’s dive deeper into this fascinating world of artificial intelligence.

Machine Learning Types

Machine Learning is a branch of artificial intelligence where computers learn patterns from data. Instead of being explicitly programmed, they improve their knowledge over time, much like humans, making predictions or decisions without being specifically coded to perform the task.


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Type 1 – Supervised Learning: Like a student with a teacher, the algorithm learns from labeled data. It’s shown the correct answer, and over time, it learns to map inputs to outputs, like recognizing spam emails from normal ones.

Type 2 – Unsupervised Learning: Here, the algorithm is like an explorer, discovering hidden patterns in unlabeled data. It’s used to uncover previously unknown patterns in data, like finding customer segments in sales data.

Type 3 – Reinforcement Learning: Think of it as training a pet. The algorithm learns by trial and error, receiving rewards or penalties for actions, like a game-playing AI that gets points for winning and loses points for losing.

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Machine Learning Types In-depth

Supervised Learning

Picture this: you’re a toddler learning about different animals from a picture book your parents have given you. The book shows an image of a furry, four-legged creature, and beneath it, the word “dog” is written. Your parents point to it and say, “Dog”. You repeat after them, “Dog”. The process continues with cats, horses, and so on, and soon enough, you’re able to identify and name these animals in real life. This is the essence of supervised learning, where guidance (the picture book and your parents) helps you understand and learn from labeled data (images of animals associated with their names).

In the realm of artificial intelligence, supervised learning functions in a similar manner. Here, the algorithm, like the toddler, is provided with a labeled dataset, a sort of “picture book” of data where each piece of data, or ‘example’, has an accompanying ‘label’. This could be anything from an image file labeled “dog” or “cat”, to an email tagged as “spam” or “not-spam”. The aim is to create a model that accurately maps these examples to their corresponding labels.

To train a supervised learning model, it’s split into two phases: training and testing. The training phase is where our AI ‘student’ learns. Much like a school student solving problems in their workbook, the algorithm uses a majority of the data (the ‘training set’) to learn the relationships between the examples and their labels. Once the model is trained, it’s time to test its knowledge.

Testing is where we see how well the algorithm has learned. It’s similar to a school exam. We present our AI student with new data, the ‘test set’, similar to exam questions. This is data the algorithm hasn’t seen before but is still part of the picture book it learned from. If our model correctly identifies the labels of the new data, we pat it on the back and say “Good job! You’ve learned well”. If not, it’s back to the training phase for further learning.

Supervised learning has many practical applications. It’s used in email filtering to identify spam, in credit scoring to determine the risk level of borrowers, and in medical imaging to detect diseases, among many others. The beauty of supervised learning is that it mimics human learning, providing a comforting familiarity in a field as advanced and often intimidating as artificial intelligence.

In a nutshell, supervised learning, with its learning-by-example approach, has become a fundamental pillar in the world of machine learning, bridging the gap between human cognition and artificial intelligence.

Unsupervised Learning

Imagine you’re an explorer arriving in a new land. You have no map, no guidebook, and no one to tell you where to go or what to do. You’re on your own to discover what this new territory holds. You start noticing patterns: the fruit-bearing trees tend to be by the river, the dangerous animals come out at night, and there are certain paths where travel is easier. This is, in essence, what unsupervised learning is all about. It’s about discovering the hidden patterns in data without any prior labels or classifications.

Unlike our previous journey into supervised learning, there’s no “picture book” in unsupervised learning. The algorithm is given a dataset, but there are no corresponding labels. It’s a bit like being handed a book in a language you don’t understand. But don’t worry! The aim of unsupervised learning isn’t to produce a direct output. Instead, it’s to model the underlying structure or distribution of the data in order to learn more about it.

Think of unsupervised learning as a detective, sifting through data to find hidden insights. It can identify groups, or ‘clusters’, of similar data points. For instance, in a dataset of shoppers’ habits, it might identify one group that prefers online shopping, another that favors in-store purchases, and another that likes both. This is known as ‘clustering’.

Another technique unsupervised learning uses is ‘dimensionality reduction’. This is like packing for a vacation and trying to fit everything into a small suitcase. You figure out what’s important (clothes, toiletries) and what’s less important (the third pair of shoes, the fourth book). Similarly, unsupervised learning can identify which features of the data carry the most information and which are redundant.

Unsupervised learning has numerous practical applications. In marketing, it’s used to segment customers into different groups for targeted advertising. In social media, it’s used to identify common themes in posts or comments. It’s even used in astronomy to categorize different types of stars.

In the grand scheme of machine learning, unsupervised learning is like the brave explorer or the meticulous detective, making sense of uncharted territory or solving a mystery with very few clues. It’s a testament to how far artificial intelligence has come, able to find meaning and patterns even when there’s no clear instruction or direction.

Reinforcement Learning

Consider this: you’re learning to play a new video game. At first, you’re pretty terrible – falling into traps, losing battles, or failing missions. But each loss provides a valuable lesson. You start recognizing which actions lead to rewards (levelling up, gaining points) and which lead to punishments (losing lives, game over). Through this process of trial and error, you become better at the game. This is essentially how reinforcement learning works.

In reinforcement learning, our AI is not a student with a guidebook nor an explorer without a map, but rather an agent in an environment, like a player in a video game. This agent makes a series of decisions or actions, each leading to a certain state in the environment and yielding a reward or a penalty. The goal? To learn the best strategy, or ‘policy’, that maximizes the total reward over time.

Think of it like a game of chess. The AI agent, or ‘player’, doesn’t know the best move at the start. It learns by playing the game repeatedly. Each move (action) leads to a new arrangement of pieces (state), and each state has a score (reward). Winning the game yields a high reward, losing yields a penalty. Over many games, the agent begins to learn which series of moves tend to maximize the reward and minimize the penalty. This sequence of states, actions, and rewards is often referred to as the ‘reward function’.

One key aspect of reinforcement learning is ‘exploration vs exploitation’. Exploration is when the agent tries new actions to see their outcome, like testing a new move in chess. Exploitation is sticking with the known actions that yield good rewards, like playing a tried-and-tested chess strategy. Balancing these two is crucial in reinforcement learning.

Reinforcement learning has exciting applications, particularly in areas where trial-and-error learning is beneficial. It powers the AI in many video games and has been used to teach computers to play games like Go and Chess at a world-class level. It’s also used in robotics for tasks like walking, where the robot learns to move efficiently through repeated attempts.

To sum up, reinforcement learning is the thrill-seeker of the machine learning world, thriving on challenges and learning through the rollercoaster of trials, errors, rewards, and penalties. It brings us closer to creating AI systems that can learn independently in complex, unpredictable environments, marking a significant leap in artificial intelligence.


In our quest to make machines learn, we’ve created an AI wonderland teeming with learners of various kinds: the guided student in supervised learning, the intrepid explorer in unsupervised learning, and the adventurous gamer in reinforcement learning. Each one has its strengths, weaknesses, and areas where it shines. As we venture further into this landscape, we are continually finding new ways to teach, to learn, and to grow — not just for our AI counterparts, but for us as well. In the end, it is a shared journey of discovery and learning, as we shape our AI future.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is the main difference between supervised and unsupervised learning?

In supervised learning, the AI learns from labeled data, where each data point comes with a corresponding label. Think of it as learning with a “teacher”. In contrast, unsupervised learning works with unlabeled data. The AI must find the underlying patterns and structures in the data without any prior guidance, like an explorer in uncharted territory.

Where is reinforcement learning typically used?

Reinforcement learning is often used in areas where decision-making is critical and learning from trial-and-error is beneficial. This includes training AI to play video games, teaching robots to perform certain tasks, optimizing strategies in finance, and much more.

Can these machine learning types be used together?

Absolutely! In fact, many real-world AI systems use a combination of supervised, unsupervised, and reinforcement learning depending on the task at hand. This is often referred to as hybrid or multi-modal learning. The blend of different learning types helps to harness the strengths of each, resulting in more robust and versatile AI systems.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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