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I just wanted to gather some perspective on why this is a great opportunity to be able to study machine learning today?

With all the online resources (online courses like Andrew Ng's, availability of datasets such as Kaggle, etc), learning machine learning has become possible.

I understood that you can have high paid jobs; but you also need a lot of work dedication to be good at it, which makes your salary not so attractive! (in comparison to the number of hours you spend to keep up with this fast moving field)

Why it is so desirable to take this opportunity and start learning machine learning today? (community, ability to start a business, etc.)

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What sort of opportunity it is depends on how much you want to focus on it.

If you want to be a regular programmer, you might take the time to learn a high level interface for some machine learning tools, such as Tensorflow or Keras. There will be plenty of things you don't know how to do (even within those tools), but you may be able to apply predesigned model architectures to problems. The models won't be as good as one designed specifically for the problem, but it's one more tool in your toolbox, and it's possible you'd be able to get some useful results occasionally without devoting a huge amount of time to mastering the techniques.

But if you want to really focus on machine learning, at the research level, you can potentially tackle problems that existing techniques haven't been able to solve. This is where most of the big projects that you've probably heard of will be happening: self-driving cars, AlphaGo, etc. What you can expect here is a lot of hard work. You will need to develop a fairly deep understanding of the mathematics involved so you can visualize (to some extent) what is happening in the potentially high dimensional spaces involved, identify potential failure modes, and identify models that won't fall into them. It involves a lot of trial and error, failed attempts and gradual improvement before you're able to develop a model that beats the stuff already out there.

It's very rewarding work if you enjoy it. There are well-paying positions in the field, but that's just a bonus if you already enjoy the work, and it isn't enough of a bonus if you don't. In my opinion, going into this for just the money would be a mistake. There are almost definitely other jobs that pay just as well but don't take anywhere near the time investment to become (and stay) competent at them. But if you really want to work in this field for its own sake, and also want to make sure you don't starve while you're doing it, it's absolutely worth it.

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Treating machine learning (ML) as an opportunity in modern society is an underestimation. It's right, that ML will become important in nearly all jobs and many university are providing courses in the subject, but the real advantage goes far beyond that outlook. With machine learning, or to be more general with Artificial Intelligence, it's possible to extend the life-span of humans, provide food for the world, let cars drive for themself and to make people smarter. In short, ML is not only something which can be studied for fun, but ML is similar to magic. That means, it provides superpower known from comic books.

From a technical perspective, machine learning is often described as a statistical regression algorithm similar to Fourier analysis. Additionally, term machine learning is used in a certain context because the idea is to realize computer vision applications, to program speech recognition and to control robotics movement. In that extended definition ML is similar to future in general. That means, if somebody plans to build a world known from science fiction movies which includes timetravel, robotics, unlimited lifespan and the ability to jump 10 meters high with a jetpack, he will need machine learning and nothing else. It's some kind of universal force which pervades everything. It's not only a mathematical formula or an enabling technology for robotics, ML is a religion.

Machine learning has the goal of Artificial Intelligence which means to build intelligent machines. Artificial Intelligence is a substep towards Singularity, which is equal to a fundamental breakthrough in all scientific topics like medicine, physics, economy and philosophy. So it's no exaggeration to see machine learning not as simple formula but as an ideology which will result into advancement for mankind.

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    $\begingroup$ Machine learning is not magic. It is applied mathematics. Some of the things you mention are actual applications of ML techniques: self-driving cars, computer vision, speech recognition. Others, such as providing food for the world, are problems that might benefit from statistical analysis of relevant data; we might apply ML techniques to that analysis. But time travel, unlimited life span, superpowers from comic books? NO. There are, unfortunately, those who treat ML as a religion, and that sort of public perception is harmful to the legitimate research. ML is a useful mathematical tool. $\endgroup$ – Ray Dec 4 '18 at 0:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Ray I've made an update in the answer to draw a line from machine learning over Artificial Intelligence to Singularity. $\endgroup$ – Manuel Rodriguez Dec 4 '18 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ thank you Manual and Ray for your answers, this is quite helpful to appreciate how humanity can benefit from machine learning; my question was a bit unclear; what i meant was : a lot of people recommended to study machine learning : what's in it for me? $\endgroup$ – GuillaumeLabs Dec 5 '18 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ Manuel, AI is largely synonymous with machine learning, although it includes a few non-ML techniques like expert systems that have largely gone out of favor (since they can't learn). Non-ML based AI systems aren't magic, either. I'll definitely grant that the Singularity is a religion, which is why I'm rather adamant that it be kept away from my mathematics. $\endgroup$ – Ray Dec 5 '18 at 18:40

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