machine-learning-christmasYou might have seen that we recently launched a policy project on machine learning, the powerful technology that allows machines to learn from data and self-improve. But I bet you didn’t realise that you, like most of us, will likely be using applications of machine learning in some way this Christmas to streamline your holiday season. Whether coordinating between various social engagements using personal assistants on smartphones, suggesting playlists suited to individual tastes for Christmas day or providing the underlying technology that allows newly gifted gadgets to function, machine learning can be found in the most unexpected places. Here are just a few of the places it might turn up this festive season.

Gadgets under the tree

Many of us already find it hard to imagine our daily lives without the help of our smartphones, and some will be hoping to find the latest model of their favourite brand on Christmas morning. Whether you’re after the latest iPhone, Xperia or Samsung, many of the apps you’ll end up using rely on machine learning. Don’t forget that even Santa was using Siri to help him manage Christmas in 2011.

The past couple of years have seen a rise in wearable tech, with more and more of us likely to find such items under the tree this Christmas. These devices use machine learning to make recommendations about fitness and lifestyle based on analysis of the patterns, as they learn more about you. As more of us start relying on technology, we’ll need to think carefully about how much we want our devices to rule our lives.

Not all Christmas cheer

Machine learning algorithms can make the job of advertisers easier by mining data to tailor adverts to the public, using information about consumer patterns that we ourselves (sometimes unknowingly) provide. Learning more about the machine learning algorithms that make such processes possible can help us all to identify it when it’s occurring and feel more empowered when making choices about which products we’re buying. Equally, it’s important to take time to understand the technology that supports the latest smart toys such as Hello Barbie, the dolls that use voice recognition systems to have “conversations” with children. These toys can make great presents that will keep kids entertained throughout the holiday season but parents need to be aware of what happens to the data these toys collect.

Compiling your Christmas List

Recommendations on websites like Amazon, Netflix and Spotify use machine learning algorithms to distil known user preferences into ideas for what else those individuals might like. Such systems might not be so helpful when buying for others (unless your tastes perfectly match!) but they can be useful if you’re struggling for things to put on your own Christmas wishlist.

It’s for life, not just for Christmas

Taking a wider view, some of the most promising applications of machine learning within the next 5 -10 years are related to the health sector. And so a wearable device or health monitoring app on a smartphone that starts its life underneath your Christmas tree this year could one day hold the key to personalising your treatment plan or providing feedback about your health to your doctor.

On the other hand, perhaps the personalised fitness plans are best saved for after the holiday season…