Glossary of Machine Learning, AI, Big Data, Terms and Jargon in Simple, Plain Language

28th Apr 2023

I. Introduction

As technology continues to rapidly advance, it's crucial for government executives, acquisition professionals, and support staff to understand the terminology used in machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and data science. This comprehensive glossary aims to help government officials navigate the jargon-laden world of digital development.

To use this glossary, simply look for the term you need clarification on and read the plain language explanation provided.

II. Machine Learning Terms

A. Supervised Learning

A type of machine learning where the algorithm is trained using labeled data, which includes both input data and the correct output.

B. Unsupervised Learning

A type of machine learning where the algorithm is trained using unlabeled data, meaning the algorithm must find patterns and relationships within the input data without guidance.

C. Reinforcement Learning

A type of machine learning where an agent learns to make decisions based on positive or negative feedback from its environment.

D. Feature Engineering

The process of selecting and transforming variables from raw data to better represent the underlying problem for a machine learning model.

E. Overfitting and Underfitting

Overfitting occurs when a model becomes too specialized to the training data and performs poorly on new, unseen data. Underfitting occurs when a model is too simple and cannot capture the underlying patterns in the data.

F. Cross-Validation

A technique used to evaluate a machine learning model by splitting the dataset into multiple parts and training/testing the model on different combinations of those parts.

G. Hyperparameter Tuning

The process of adjusting a model's hyperparameters (settings not learned during training) to improve its performance.

H. Model Evaluation Metrics

Quantitative measures used to assess the performance of a machine learning model, such as accuracy, precision, recall, and F1 score.

I. Bias and Variance

Bias refers to the error introduced by approximating a complex problem with a simpler model. Variance refers to the error introduced by a model's sensitivity to small fluctuations in the input data. A good model balances low bias and low variance.

J. Ensemble Methods

Techniques that combine multiple machine learning models to create a more accurate and robust prediction.

III. Artificial Intelligence Terms

A. Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI)

AI focused on performing specific tasks or solving specific problems, also known as weak AI.

B. Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)

AI that can perform any intellectual task that a human can do, also known as strong AI.

C. Artificial Superintelligence (ASI)

AI that surpasses human intelligence and capabilities across all domains.

D. Neural Networks

A type of machine learning model inspired by the structure and function of the human brain, consisting of interconnected nodes or neurons.

E. Deep Learning

A subfield of machine learning that focuses on neural networks with many layers, enabling the model to learn more complex patterns and representations.

F. Natural Language Processing (NLP)

A field of AI focused on enabling computers to understand, interpret, and generate human language.

G. Computer Vision

A field of AI focused on enabling computers to understand and interpret visual information from the world.

H. Robotics

The branch of AI that deals with the design, construction, and operation of robots.

I. Expert Systems

AI programs designed to mimic human expertise in a specific domain by using knowledge-based reasoning techniques.

J. Generative Models:

  1. Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs): A class of neural networks that involve two separate networks, a generator that creates fake samples, and a discriminator that attempts to determine if a sample is real or fake.

  2. Variational Autoencoders (VAEs): A generative model that learns a continuous representation of the data using an encoder and a decoder network, which together optimize the likelihood of the data and the latent variables.

  3. Restricted Boltzmann Machines (RBMs): A generative stochastic neural network that can learn a probability distribution over the input data, and is often used as a building block for deep learning models.

  4. Deep Belief Networks (DBNs): A generative model composed of multiple layers of Restricted Boltzmann Machines, which can be used for unsupervised pre-training of deep neural networks.

  5. Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC): A family of algorithms for sampling from a probability distribution, often used in generative models to explore the solution space and produce new samples.

  6. Pixel Recurrent Neural Networks (PixelRNNs): A type of generative model that uses Recurrent

IV. Big Data Terms

A. The 3 Vs of Big Data (Volume, Velocity, Variety)

The three key characteristics of big data: large volumes of data, high-speed data generation and processing, and a wide variety of data types and formats.

B. Data Warehousing

The process of collecting, storing, and managing large volumes of structured data from various sources in a central repository for analysis and reporting.

C. Data Lake

A central storage system that allows for the ingestion, storage, and analysis of large volumes of raw, unstructured, or semi-structured data.

D. Data Lakehouse

A hybrid approach that combines the benefits of data lakes and data warehouses, enabling organizations to store and analyze both structured and unstructured data.

E. Hadoop

An open-source software framework for distributed storage and processing of large datasets across multiple computers.

F. MapReduce

A programming model for processing and generating large datasets by dividing the work into smaller tasks that can be executed in parallel across multiple computers.


A type of database management system designed to handle large volumes of unstructured or semi-structured data, without the need for a fixed schema.

H. Data Ingestion

The process of collecting, importing, and processing data from various sources for storage or analysis.

I. Data Processing

The process of transforming raw data into meaningful information through various techniques such as cleaning, aggregating, and analyzing.

J. Data Visualization

The use of graphical representations to display complex data sets in an easily understandable format.


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