Machine learning has been impressive so far, allowing us to revolutionize work being done in an array of outwardly unconnected areas. Machines now assist humans in everything from market forecasting and algorithmic trading, to predicting when a bridge is likely to collapse.
For web developers, machine learning has yielded a wealth of unexpected benefits and only promises to bring more as the associated technologies improve. While Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered by machine learning is unlikely to replace human programmers and web developers anytime soon, the fact that machines have shown the ability to sift through enormous sets of data and find important patterns already indicates a level of indispensability.
There's an excellent chance that machine learning will fundamentally change the website and web app development process.
What is Machine Learning?
Put simply, machine learning is the study of certain algorithms and statistical techniques that allow computers to perform complex tasks without receiving instructions beforehand. Instead of using explicit pre-programming directing certain behavior under a certain set of circumstances, machine learning relies on pattern recognition and associated inferences.
Once the algorithm is constructed, the machine is fed training data for which inputs and outputs are already known. The algorithm is then evaluated on the degree to which it arrives at the correct output, given its input, and is modified accordingly.
Through this supervised learning and training, the machine is refined to generate the most accurate predictions and extrapolations possible. Supervised learning is effective at sifting through data which can be cleanly categorized, such as handwriting, based on known letter patterns.
Through supervised training and refinement, the algorithm can be turned toward unsupervised learning, in which it examines data where there are no known patterns and attempts to find the patterns on its own. Unsupervised machine learning is useful for extrapolating patterns from sets of data, such as trying to predict the future price of a stock or the likely preferences of consumers.
For web design in particular, unsupervised learning is especially important, as developers want to try and stay ahead of future demand. Harvesting and mining data about customers attempts to figure out their preferences in order to design and deliver a website that encourages a satisfying experience.
The Impact of Machine Learning on Web Development
Analyzing data is crucial to all forms of web development. As machine learning allows us to augment our capacity to analyze and organize data, it has revolutionary potential to improve and streamline web development. Here’s just a smattering of what machine learning can offer web developers and webmasters:
Provide a Dynamic Alternative to Conventional Data Mining
Conventional data mining techniques have existed long before the advent of sophisticated machine learning technology. With these techniques, we have been able to discern important patterns in bundles of data. Before machine learning, however, the question of what to do once patterns have been found was for humans to decide. Machine learning can do everything that the older techniques could do but also automates responses to detected patterns.
For example, let's say that you're looking at your customers' search history on your website. Machine learning can help sift through that history to find what sorts of products your customers are most likely to be interested in, and then automatically offer them those products. In that way, some of your marketing is streamlined and automated.
Better Understand Customer Behavior
If you look at your customers' behavior, you could be forgiven for sometimes seeing nothing more than an unsystematic and apparently random mess of events and actions. Machine learning helps see the hidden patterns and respond accordingly. Data not only from search history but also from conversations between customers that might occur on your website. The idea is simple - the more complete the data set, the more targeted and effective your design efforts can be.
More Precise Targeting for Personalized Content and Information Delivery
If your website specializes in providing content rather than selling products, machine learning can still help. Websites like YouTube base the videos that they recommend on the sorts of videos that those users have already watched, liked and otherwise responded to positively in the past. No matter the topic of the website you're developing, a dose of machine learning along the way can almost certainly target your efforts more precisely.
Improve Search Results and Product Discovery
Human nature being what it is (mercurial and unfocused), not every search result is relevant to what a customer truly wants. Machine learning can help obviate that problem through sheer volume of data collected. The more you have, the more random spur-of-the-moment searches will be screened out as unimportant, leaving the algorithm to yield legitimate product interest and seemingly "magically" accurate additional recommendations.
Simplify and Speed Up Website and App Development
The reality is that AI website builders are still in their infancy. Code they produce for websites and apps can be clunky, hard to edit, and aesthetically questionable to put it politely. Where the technology shines is in completing relatively simple tasks, such as a landing page, which frees up a developer or designer for higher level creative ideation.
Machine learning can also be helpful in the area of problem-solving and refinement after the site goes live. For example, you can put the algorithm to work examining user complaints about features and flaws that have crept into the design. Examining common user complaints can help guide developers take corrective measures or avoid these pitfalls in future projects.
Eliminate or Preemptively Respond to Cybersecurity Threats
If you run a business that stores large quantities of customer data on company servers, you automatically become a hacker target. Effective cybersecurity has become mandatory for a website or online business. The good news is that malware attacks tend to follow predictable patterns, which makes preventing them an excellent repetitive task for machine learning algorithms.
For instance, algorithms can be used to detect likely phishing scams by examining the particular language used in previous attempts and comparing it to incoming e-mail. Other machine learning uses include warning when software or hardware needs updating or reconfigured in order to best repel against new or evolving threats.
The Big Idea here is that any website you build and take online assumes a security risk. Machine learning can buy at least some peace of mind in that area as well as reduce costs needed for IT staff.
Fundamentally Changing Web Development
Even if AI/ML-powered website and app builders aren't an effective substitute for human programmers (yet), given the intricate web design process and need for creativity and intuition, any work that can be offloaded to an algorithm is a benefit. Expect more of this in the future. Rather than seeing "smart" website builders as a threat, those in the development industry should embrace them as a tool. Do carpenters eschew hydraulic nail drivers on the assumption that it will one day put them out of work? Not the smart ones. Instead, they see a better, faster project completion rate.
Machine learning is a revolutionary technology of such broad scope and power that, as it develops, it will likely leave few aspects of human life untouched. In the field of web development, as in other areas, its astounding pattern-recognition skill paired with automatic learned responses can reduce the amount of hard labor involved in creating a website as well as add insights gleaned from data sets too massive for a human to analyze.
What do you think about machine learning? Be sure to leave your comments below.
Empower your development. Build better applications.