How much math do you need to start learning machine learning or deep learning?

‘I’m studying artificial intelligence.’

‘What?’ my Uber passenger asked, ‘is that like aliens?’

‘It’s more like a combination of math, statistics and programming.’

‘You’ve lost me.’

I didn’t really want to go back to university so I made my own Artificial Intelligence Masters Degree using online courses. I drove Uber on the weekends for 9-months to pay for my studies.

Now 7-months into being a machine learning engineer, I’m still working through it, along with plenty of other online learning resources.

My first line of Python was 3 weeks before starting Udacity’s Deep Learning Nanodegree.

I’d signed up and paid the course fees but I was scared of failing so I emailed Udacity support asking if I could withdraw my payment and enrol at a later date.

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I didn’t end up withdrawing my payment.

For 3/4 of the projects, I needed an extension. But I still managed to graduate on time.

The main challenge for me was the programming, not the math.

But to learn the math knowledge I did need, I used Khan Academy.

Especially:

I was learning on the fly. Every time a concept came up I didn’t know about, I’d spend the next couple of hours learning whatever I could. Most of the time, I bounced between Stack Overflow, Khan Academy and various machine learning blogs.

How much math do you need?

It depends on your goals.

If you want to start implementing deep learning models and achieving some incredible results, I’d argue programming and statistics knowledge are more important than pure math.

However, if you want to pursue deep learning or machine learning research, say, in the form of a PhD, you’ll want a strong math foundation.

The math topics I listed above take years, even decades to fully comprehend. But thanks to deep learning and machine learning frameworks such as Keras and TensorFlow, you can start replicating state of the art deep learning results with as little as a few weeks of Python experience.

The thing with math is, it’s never going away. Math is the language of nature. It’s hard to go wrong brushing up on your math skills.

But if the math is holding you back from jumping in and trying machine learning or deep learning, don’t let it.

A fisherman doesn’t learn how to catch every single fish before he goes fishing. He practices one fish at a time.

The same goes for learning. Rather than trying to learning everything before you start, learn by doing, learn what you need, when you need.

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