What is machine learning, you might ask? Machine learning is the science of getting computers to learn things without being explicity programmed. Essentially, you set up the framework for it to learn, then you feed it thousands of examples of what you want it to analyze, and the computer just learns on its own.
Most Belizeans use Machine learning in their everyday life and don’t even know it. For example, Google uses machine learning to autocomplete what you’re typing.
So, how can machine learning benefit Belize particularly?
Agriculture – Agricultural efficieny is one of the biggest challenges Belize faces, especially since our population is set to double in 25 years. Will we be able to provide for 800,000 people by 2043? If we don’t urgently work on improving our Agricultural yields, it could be catastrophic. Developed countries have already been applying Machine Learning techniques in agriculture years ago.
One of the best ways farms can benefit is by deploying smart sensors that gather data on various data points, such as temperature, humidity, light, soil moisture and barometric pressure. All the data gathered over months and years can then be fed into machine learning algorithms. A good machine learning model would be able to make predictions and recommendations on things such as: if you are using your water efficiently or if you could save money by using less water, what areas of land are best for what types of crops, when is the best month to plant your seeds, and much more.
Other uses of machine learning in Agriculture are in: drone technology to both plant and fertilize seeds at a speed beyond human abilities, and the identification of disease in crops so they can be more easily treated.
Healthcare – It is routine to have access to blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs when a doctor sees a patient. Imagine how much more useful it would be if a doctor was also shown their patient’s risk for diabetes, stroke, kidney failure and more, based on data points such as previous vital signs, lab results, race, gender, and family history. The more information doctors have, the better decisions they can make and the more efficient hospitals can be.
The potential of machine learning in healthcare is in its ability to make sense of huge datasets, and then reliably produce clinical insights that aid doctors in planning and providing care. This ultimately leads to better outcomes, lower costs of care, and increased patient satisfaction.
Belizean hospitals don’t need to spend years gathering data before they can implement this either. Hospitals can dig into global data and research readily available. For example, there has been breakthrough machine learning research that accurately diagnoses conditions such as skin cancer, eye diseases, and brain tumors. We can instantly benefit from the progress of the international research community and we don’t need to wait years.
Natural Disasters – There is a wealth of weather data for Belize collected daily. By feeding this into a Machine Learning algorithm, we can train a model to better predict the likelihood of a natural disaster. This could significantly improve our preparation for natural disasters, and also the way we recover from them.
All in all, machine learning can make a country much more efficient by assisting us in decision making. Belize has yet to make progress in reaping the benefits that machine learning can bring. We hope this will change soon.