Machine Learning Widens the Gap Between Knowledge and Understanding

And gives us the tools for our next evolutionary step

David Weinberger
OneZero
Published in
10 min readApr 15, 2019

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Credit: peepo/Getty Images

TThe program “Deep Patient” doesn’t know that being knocked on the head can make us humans dizzy or that diabetics shouldn’t eat 5-pound Toblerone bars in one sitting. It doesn’t even know that the arm bone is connected to the wrist bone. All it knows is what researchers fed it in 2015: the medical records of 700,000 patients as discombobulated data, with no skeleton of understanding to hang it all on.

Yet, after analyzing the relationships among these blind bits, Deep Patient was not only able to diagnose the likelihood of individual patients developing particular diseases, it was in some instances more accurate than human physicians, including about some diseases that until now have utterly defied predictability.

Deep learning

If you ask your physician why Deep Patient thinks it might be wise for you to start taking statins or undergo preventive surgery, your doctor might not be able to tell you, but not because she’s not sufficiently smart or technical. Deep Patient is a type of artificial intelligence called deep learning (itself a type of machine learning) that finds relationships among pieces of data, knowing nothing about what that data represents.

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David Weinberger
OneZero

I mainly write about the effect of tech on our ideas