What Math Is Needed For AI?

Written by Adam Morris

Updated August 4, 2023
Two men standing in front of large board with mathematical equations written

Artificial Intelligence is constantly evolving. But did you ever wonder what goes into this advanced technology? What kind of mathematics do we need to understand artificial intelligence?

AI is typically based on algorithms, which involve a lot of mathematics. The majority of AI technologies require knowledge/understanding of calculus, statistics, and linear algebra. Machine learning algorithms especially depend upon these areas of mathematics for its training and functioning.

A basic understanding of math concepts can help us profoundly when trying to understand how AI works. From coding complex operations to identifying patterns in data sets, the applications of math are essential in the field of AI development. With this piece, we will dive into the mathematical concepts leveraged for making and utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI) to understand why they are so important in advancing novel technologies.

Mathematics for Machine Learning

The connection between machine learning and maths is clear. Machine learning algorithms are largely dependent on mathematics for their success, since without them it would be impossible to form valid predictions from input data.

Mathematics helps in understanding the underlying structure of data, giving clarity to the process used to create an algorithm capable of making accurate predictions. Algorithms provide guidance for predictive models, which consists of recognizing patterns in existing data sets and using those insights to make predictions from new data.

To gain a full understanding of sophisticated algorithms, mathematical concepts such as calculus and linear algebra are essential. These tools enable us to comprehend why we should use certain algorithms instead of others, along with how to interpret the results they generate.

AI robot facing laptop

Many machine learning techniques work by minimizing a cost function composed of various terms; these terms appear because we need to compare different algorithms. Additionally, various mathematical models help determine weight values (such as weights assigned to neurons in a neural network) that optimize the model’s performance.

Ultimately, mathematics gives us deeper insight into why some approaches may be more successful than others and provides rationale behind decisions made in creating successful ML models.

Mathematical Concepts For Data Science and Machine Learning

Mathematical concepts are essential for machine learning and data science. Below, we’ll look at each and how its related to AI.


Descriptive statistics is an essential concept for any aspiring data scientist. It helps analyze and classify raw data, giving insights that are used to understand machine learning when working with intricate classifications like logistic regression, distributions, discrimination analysis, and hypothesis testing.

Aspiring data scientists struggle to learn descriptive statistics when it comes to mathematics; it takes a lot of dedication for them to put in 200 percent effort in understanding the different equations and formulas associated with this field.

Man and woman discussing statistical figures on screen in front of computer

Some of the fundamental statistics associated with machine learning include Combinatorics, Axioms, Bayes’ Theorem, Variance and Expectation, Random Variables, Conditional, and Joint Distributions. These concepts help descriptive statisticians determine which relationship between various variables within a dataset is significant or not.

Understanding which relationships are significant will allow data scientists to predict future behaviors accurately using their understanding of descriptive-statistical mathematics. Additionally, they will be able to identify areas where predictive models can be constructed such as determining successful outcomes based on inputs or being able to anticipate relationships between multiple datasets.

Linear Algebra

Linear algebra is an important concept in machine learning and understanding it is essential for developing algorithms used to maximize accuracy and effectiveness when training computer systems. Linear algebra is used to construct linear equations which are then used to evaluate and observe provided data collections.

To master linear algebra for machine learning, a deep exploration of topics such as dot products between two vectors, eigenvalues & eigenvectors for data analysis, matrix factorization for statistical modeling and optimization through gradient descent algorithms is essential.

Learning these topics will help provide you with a more comprehensive grasp of how your algorithms actually work under the hood which allows for better intuition and judgement on how to optimize them for different tasks.

In general, linear algebra plays a key role in loss functions, regularisation, covariance matrices, Singular Value Decomposition (SVD), Matrix Operations and support vector machine classification. With linear regression, linear algebra allows us to calculate the best fitting line through a group of points.

Mathematical equations written in white on brown board with lighted bulb on top

Moreover, other concepts related to linear algebra help us further process our obtained data: principal component analysis (PCA). This method allows us to reduce the dimensionality of datasets by projecting them onto the subspace spanned by several variables.

Utilizing Principal Component Analysis (PCA) allows us to uncover relationships between several variables of a dataset and gain insight into how the various factors come together in creating outcomes.

Further algorithms such as caliper constraints also utilize optimized methods from linear algebra that can save computational costs as well as allow for improved performance on complex problems. All these theories develop a strong foundation for understanding optimization techniques involved in modern machine learning processes.

Multivariable Calculus

Calculus is essential for maximizing the potential of machine learning, as it enables us to evaluate and apply ML models with greater accuracy. With calculus, we can measure how quickly a particular function changes over time which plays an extremely important role in the process of gradient descent.

Multivariable calculus problem written on paper with pen on top

Gradient descent is used to identify local minima from a function, however, a global minima may need some further tweaking when multiple minima or saddle points exist for a given function. Therefore, understanding the principles of calculus can help create more accurate and efficient machine learning models.

With knowledge of calculus, not only will you be able to better understand model structures but also gain insights into the optimization process that goes behind the training phase in any machine learning project.

For instance, one may consider derivative functions like Taylor Series or Lagrange multipliers while optimizing their model depending on the problem they are trying to solve. Furthermore, building non-linear models such as SVM and Neural Networks can easily be done with an understanding of calculus and its basic use cases in Machine Learning scenarios as well.

Discrete Maths

Discrete mathematics has become more important in recent years with its application to machine learning. Discrete mathematics can be used when dealing with problems that require integer numbers or non-continuous data.

For example, a taxi fleet cannot send 0.34 taxis, only full taxis can be sent; similarly letters have to delivered by dedicated postmen who cannot visit half of the locations they need to deliver to. Discrete mathematics is also very relevant to artificial intelligence and neural networks, which are based on integer numbers and interconnections between nodes. Thus, discrete mathematics plays an important role in providing a structural framework for many complex machine learning problems.

AI robot writing on black board with math equations written

Discrete mathematics is useful for breaking down complex operations into simpler ones. For example, it is often used for sorting algorithms, coding theory and cryptography purposes. Even basic processes such as calculating the distance between two points requires an understanding of discrete mathematics in order to accurately calculate distances without introducing inaccuracies from floating point calculations.

Machine learning applications benefit from discrete maths due to its ability to model simple complexities which would otherwise be difficult or intractable using continuous math techniques alone. In addition, discrete math techniques allows us to build efficient systems which can solve large optimization problems quickly with an acceptable degree of accuracy.

Information Theory

Information theory plays an essential role in Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning. It is the study of how data can be represented, stored, accessed, and processed efficiently. Essentially, it combines elements of calculus, statistics and probability to analyze data. It requires mastering several concepts such as entropy and cross entropy which are used to measure the complexity and uncertainty of data sets.

Entropy is a fundamental concept in information theory that refers to the amount of uncertainty present when deciding between a finite number of options or events. Measuring how much energy is required for a task or process can be very beneficial. Moreover, the cross-entropy approach involves gauging the discrepancy between two probability distributions.

Typically, this method is applied to measure a machine learning algorithm’s performance by contrasting its predictions with real outcomes. Interestingly, these concepts have implications for not just deep learning applications like facial recognition but also genetics as it pertains to evolutionary analysis. Understanding information theory concepts can help one optimize AI models as well as enhance natural language processing abilities too.

Integral Calculus

Differential calculus is a fundamental area of mathematics that studies the dynamism of quantities. With this powerful tool, we can swiftly obtain derivatives from any given function and address problems with greater effectiveness than usual. It will take us through the motions of finding partial derivatives, limits, integral and all the rules related to them in an efficient manner.

Male student writing using marker on white board with math equations

For machine learning applications, it is essential to understand how variables interact with each other to represent our observations and responses accurately. Differential calculus lets us break down complex machine learning models into simpler equations so that we can discover their dependence or inter-relationships with one another.

This knowledge can then be used to understand how changes in our input data affect our desired outputs, as well as approximate results for problems which are too complex for traditional methods of solution. All these skills enable us to develop models which generalize better – thereby giving us better predictions.


Machine learning can take its accuracy and reliability to the next level with the help of probability theory. Probability theory is a crucial factor in optimizing machine learning results. By leveraging probability, our models are able to work with noisy data, limited coverage, and any model imperfections. By utilizing probabilities, we could gain deeper understanding of a problem and make wiser decisions, without needing to depend only on instinct or hastily-made solutions.

Being able to estimate various components of uncertainty using the power of probability tools is especially helpful when dealing with unclear or incomplete data sets which occur rather frequently in the field of machine learning.

Probability simplifies the process, by allowing us to base our predictions off statistical models rather than assuming we know all the possible values in advance.

It is of paramount importance for anyone who wants to explore the domain of machine learning to acquire a strong comprehension in probabilistic models and probability theory. These methods are highly effective for interpreting complex systems and uncovering powerful insights in real-world settings. Building a strong foundation with these concepts will help create even more accurate prediction models.

Why is Math Important in ML?

The importance of mathematics in machine learning cannot be downplayed; it is an essential part of any successful ML project. Mathematics help to identify the right algorithms and parameter values which are crucial in knowing the success of a Machine Learning project.

Furthermore, understanding the Bias-Variance tradeoff that exists allows developers to recognize overfitting and underfitting issues in the program before they become major problems. This helps save time and resources that can potentially be utilized elsewhere when conducting the project correctly.

Man building AI using tablet

Mathematics also plays a role in determining required confidence intervals and necessary uncertainties while executing certain activities during the project. It serves as a control measure, allowing elements like cost and accuracy to stay within acceptable ranges as work progresses. This ensures that precision-sensitive tasks remain accurate, and confident decisions can be made even when dealing with uncertainty or similar simple but complex concepts.

Maths can therefore provide invaluable insights about crucial aspects across Machine Learning Projects — from understanding prediction accuracy to evaluating data complexity, all the way down to determining the best parameter settings for an algorithm or application.


In conclusion, learning mathematics for machine learning is an important and necessary step to achieve success with AI technology. To take full advantage of quantitative analysis and data-driven decisions, it would be prudent to dedicate at least 3-4 months of studying these topics alongside the algorithms so one can determine which is the most appropriate for their model.


Does Python require math?

Python itself does not require any math knowledge. However, as you are programming and exploring libraries, you will use equations and mathematical concepts such as variables and data structures. Also, while working on specific projects involving natural language processing, machine learning, or artificial intelligence, then having math skills is essential. Generally speaking though, Python can be picked up by anyone even a beginner with a basic understanding of algebraic principles because it is built to be an intuitive and accessible language.

How to get an AI career?

Start with an introductory class such as Introduction to Artificial Intelligence which offers an introduction into AI and its related subjects. Then advance your knowledge by diving into more intricate topics like Machine Learning, Reinforcement Learning, or Deep Learning; each will provide insight on how to utilize data-driven analysis in real-world issues. Drawing on your acquired knowledge, you can take advantage of sophisticated algorithms and address intricate tasks. Ultimately, the choice of which AI-related career you wish to pursue – such as data scientist or machine learning engineer – as well as what coding languages and tools come intuitively for you will determine your path. Read more in How To Get Into AI.

Is high school Math enough for AI?

High school Math is enough for some basic concepts of AI, but for a full understanding, completion of higher level math courses is necessary. In particular, a solid foundation in linear algebra and calculus is an integral part of AI development and research. Programming knowledge can be beneficial as well when it comes to applications development and implementing algorithms efficiently. In sophisticated areas such as machine learning, data science and deep learning, more advanced mathematics will come into play; topics such as probability, statistics and numerical optimization are often required.

Are there prerequisites for a career in AI?

A career in AI requires a good understanding of computer science fundamentals, an inquisitive attitude, and creativity. To succeed in this role, you must exhibit mastery of programming languages such as Java and Python, be knowledgeable with software development tools including Github and Linux systems, as well as demonstrate an extensive acquaintance of core machine learning algorithms like neural networks and deep learning. Gaining a deep understanding of NLP and image recognition technologies is essential for AI professionals, and experience or an educational background in computer science or another related field can be beneficial. More often than not, the most successful people within this industry were taught at prestigious universities.

Where can I learn AI?

There are several places to learn AI. There are free online tutorials, or subscribing to Udemy, Coursera, and other similar platforms. If a more structured route is what you’re after, universities offer undergraduate and graduate programs that specialize in AI and Machine Learning. Additionally, there are tons of resources available for those who prefer an independent approach – such as Google’s Tensorflow website tutorials, Stanford’s AI course offerings, or MIT’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence. Finally, attending conferences and listening to experts in AI can be both inspiring and informative.

Adam is a crypto expert & AI enthusiast who has been researching and writing on the topics since 2017.

He’s spoken on numerous podcasts and has been featured in many prominent media publications such as Forbes, CNN & CNBC.