Understanding the Differences: Neural Networks, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence

In recent years, terms like neural networks, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) have become commonplace in discussions about technology and innovation. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to distinct concepts within the broader field of computational intelligence.

Working in the industry, many people are confused about these three terms. Most of the time, when there is a discussion regarding AI, even people who are on top of their company’s respective tech ladder are thinking in terms of artificial general intelligence for use cases which require some machine learning models.

This article aims to clarify the differences between these three crucial components of modern technology and explain why AI has become a common term and how it differs from Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).

An AI image of a board meeting with human and robot attendees

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial Intelligence is a broad field that encompasses any technique that enables computers to mimic human intelligence. This includes tasks such as learning from experience, recognizing patterns, understanding natural language, solving problems, and making decisions. AI can be divided into two main types:

  1. Narrow AI: Also known as weak AI, this is designed to perform a narrow task (e.g., facial recognition or internet searches) and is limited to specific tasks.
  2. General AI: Also known as strong AI, this is a type of AI that can understand, learn, and apply intelligence to solve any problem, much like a human being. General AI is still largely theoretical and not yet realized.

Examples of AI applications include chatbots, autonomous vehicles, and recommendation systems.

Why AI is Becoming a Common Term

AI has become a ubiquitous term due to several factors:

  1. Movie Poster for ex-machina

    Movies like ex-machina have helped explain AI to audiences

    Technological Advancements
    : Improvements in computing power, data storage, and algorithm design have made AI more accessible and practical for real-world applications.
  2. Commercial Use: Companies are increasingly integrating AI into products and services to enhance efficiency, improve user experiences, and drive innovation. This widespread adoption in healthcare, finance, and retail has made AI a household term.
  3. Media and Pop Culture: The portrayal of AI in movies, TV shows, and news articles has heightened public awareness and interest in the technology, contributing to its prominence in everyday language.
  4. Global Connectivity: The internet and social media have facilitated the rapid dissemination of information about AI advancements and applications, making the term more familiar to a worldwide audience.

Machine Learning (ML)

Machine Learning is a subset of AI that focuses on the development of algorithms that allow computers to learn from and make predictions or decisions based on data. Instead of being explicitly programmed to perform a task, ML systems are trained on large amounts of data to identify patterns and make decisions. ML can be categorized into several types:

  1. Supervised Learning: The algorithm is trained on a labeled dataset, meaning that each training example is paired with an output label. The model learns to predict the output from the input data.
  2. Unsupervised Learning: The algorithm is given data without explicit instructions on what to do with it. The system tries to learn the patterns and structure from the data.
  3. Reinforcement Learning: The algorithm learns by interacting with an environment. It receives rewards or penalties based on its actions and uses this feedback to improve its performance over time.

Machine learning is used in a variety of applications, including spam filtering, fraud detection, and personalized recommendations.

Neural Networks

Neural Networks are a specific type of machine learning model inspired by the structure and function of the human brain. They consist of interconnected layers of nodes (neurons), where each connection represents a weighted path that influences the overall output. Neural networks are particularly well-suited for tasks that involve complex pattern recognition and data analysis. Key components include:

  1. Input Layer: The layer that receives the initial data.
  2. Hidden Layers: Layers between the input and output transform the input into meaningful patterns through weighted connections.
  3. Output Layer: The final layer that produces the result of the neural network’s processing.

There are various types of neural networks, each designed for specific tasks:

  1. Feedforward Neural Networks: The simplest type, where connections do not form cycles. They are commonly used for straightforward pattern recognition tasks.
  2. Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs): Especially effective for image and video recognition due to their ability to automatically and adaptively learn spatial hierarchies of features.
  3. Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs): Designed for sequential data processing, such as time series analysis or natural language processing, as they can maintain a memory of previous inputs.

Neural networks are the backbone of many advanced AI applications, including voice assistants, image recognition systems, and natural language processing tools.

A diagram showing the hierarchy of AI technologies

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), also known as strong AI, refers to a type of AI that possesses the ability to understand, learn, and apply intelligence across a wide range of tasks, much like a human being. Unlike narrow AI, which is designed for specific tasks, AGI would have the flexibility and adaptability to perform any intellectual task that a human can do. The key characteristics of AGI include:

  1. Generalization: The ability to apply knowledge from one domain to solve problems in another.
  2. Learning from Few Examples: The capability to learn effectively from limited data.
  3. Understanding Context: The ability to comprehend and interpret the context of information similarly to a human.

AGI remains a theoretical concept and is a major goal of AI research. Achieving AGI would represent a significant leap in AI capabilities, leading to systems that can think, learn, and adapt as humans do.


While AI, machine learning, and neural networks are interconnected, they represent different layers of the computational intelligence spectrum.

  • AI is the overarching field aimed at creating intelligent systems.
  • Machine learning is a subset of AI focused on the development of systems that can learn from data.
  • Neural networks are a specific type of machine learning model inspired by the brain’s neural architecture, excelling in tasks involving complex pattern recognition.

Understanding these differences is crucial for navigating the evolving landscape of modern technology and harnessing its potential.

The growing ubiquity of AI in daily life, driven by technological advancements and commercial applications, underscores its importance and relevance. Meanwhile, the pursuit of AGI represents the next frontier in AI research, aiming to create machines with human-like cognitive abilities.

Ashik Sunilkumar

Ashik Sunilkumar

KnowNow Information Data Guru

With a recent Masters in Data Management from the University of Portsmouth, Ashik is the resident data expert at KnowNow Information.

Reach out to Ashik by sending him a message at contact@kn-i.com.