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What is Machine Learning?

The simplest machine learning definition

Machine learning technology teaches computers how to perform tasks by learning from data – instead of being explicitly programmed.
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Illustration of the human brain

What is a neural network?

Neural networks – aka artificial neural networks – are a type of machine learning that is loosely based on how neurons work in the human brain. They are computer programs that use multiple layers of nodes (or “neurons”) operating in parallel to learn things, recognise patterns, and make decisions in a human-like way. 

Illustration representing a neural network in deep learning

What is deep learning?

Deep learning is a “deep” neural network that includes many layers of neurons and a huge volume of data. This advanced type of machine learning can solve complex, non-linear problems – and is responsible for AI breakthroughs such as natural language processing (NLP), personal digital assistants, and self-driving cars. 

Illustration of the human brain learning new information

Supervised vs. unsupervised learning

Supervised learning algorithms are trained using data that includes the correct answers. They build models that map the data to the answers – and then use these models for future processing. Unsupervised algorithms learn from data without being given the correct answers. They use large, diverse datasets to self-improve. 

Machine learning best practices for business

The benefits of machine learning in business

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Faster decisions

Machine learning algorithms can prioritize and automate decision making. They can also flag opportunities and smart actions that should be taken immediately – so you can achieve the best results.


Artificial intelligence doesn’t just look at historical data. It can process real-time inputs – so you can adjust on the fly. Think of cars that can automatically stop before rear-ending another vehicle.

Algorithmic business

An “algorithmic business” uses advanced machine learning algorithms to achieve a high level of automation. Making the shift can pave the way for innovative new business models, products, and services.

Deeper insights

Machine learning can analyse big, complex, and streaming data, and find insights – including predictive insights – that are beyond human capabilities. It can then trigger actions based on those insights.


With smart, machine learning-supported business processes, you can dramatically improve efficiency. Plan and forecast accurately, automate tasks, reduce costs, and even eliminate human error.

Better outcomes

From triggering smart actions based on new opportunities and risks, to accurately predicting the results of a decision before it is made – machine learning can help you drive better business outcomes.

Machine learning use cases in key sectors

Many different industries and lines of business are ripe for machine learning – particularly the ones that amass large volumes of data. Here are three sectors that are leading the way:

Machine learning research

SAP partners with top-tier universities to advance the use of machine learning for business.

Machine learning training

Explore free, self-paced openSAP machine learning courses for everyone from beginners to developers.

Stay on top of machine learning trends

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