1. Let’s Discuss Learning

1.1 Welcome

From time to time, people trot out a tired claim that computers can “only do what they are told to do.” The claim is taken to mean that computers can only do what their programmers know how to do and can explain to the computer. This claim is false. Computers can perform tasks that their programmers cannot explain to them. Computers can solve tasks that their programmers do not understand. We will break down this paradox with an example of a computer program that learns.

I’ll start by discussing one of the oldest—if not the oldest known—examples of a programmed machine-learning system. I’ve turned this into a story, but it is rooted in historical facts. Arthur Samuel was working for IBM in the 1950s and ...

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