What is TensorFlow?

While machine learning theories can be complicated with lots of data and complicated formats, real-world implementation isn’t as scary as it used to be. Machine learning frameworks like TensorFlow make acquiring data, training models, predicting, and refining results easier. This article discusses what TensorFlow is, how it works, and how it contributes to computing and artificial intelligence (AI).


What is the difference between artificial intelligence and machine learning?

They are related to an extent but quite different

TensorFlow through the years

TensorFlow is an open source framework for machine learning, AI projects, data processing, and other statistical and predictive tasks. It was released by Google Brain in 2017 under Apache License 2.0.

Google’s update to TensorFlow 2.0 in September 2019 improved its functionality and further solidified its position in the tech community. As a result of being open source and a versatile utility in AI development, TensorFlow garnered a substantial following beyond Google.

TensorFlow’s biggest advantage is its ability to abstract complexity. This allows the developer to focus on the application’s logic instead of sweating over the nitty-gritty details.

Besides that, TensorFlow is versatile and supports both GPUs and CPUs. Developing deep learning models requires a lot of computation due to the large amount of data involved and the iterative nature of the training process.

This type of activity takes a long time on a CPU. CPUs are best for general-purpose tasks and scenarios where complex sequential logic needs to be executed quickly. On the other hand, GPUs are optimized for tasks that require parallelism, such as deep learning.

What does Tensor in TensorFlow mean?

A tensor is the fundamental data structure designed to efficiently hold and manipulate the multidimensional arrays of data typical in machine learning. Think of tensors as containers.

These containers can be of different shapes and sizes, depending on how many numbers they need to hold and how these numbers are organized. Here’s how tensors can be categorized based on their dimensions.

0-D tensor

0-D tensor is the simplest tensor form, representing a single number. It doesn’t have any axes.

1-D tensor

A 1-D tensor is a vector comprising a list of numbers. It has one axis. Take, for example, a list of numbers.

2-D tensor

A 2-D tensor is a matrix like a two-dimensional array with rows and columns.

3-D tensor

A 3-D tensor adds another dimension and can be visualized as a cube of numbers.

Higher dimensional tensors

As we move beyond 3-D, tensors add dimensions, making them harder to visualize. Nonetheless, they are more useful than ever. Each additional dimension allows tensors to encapsulate more complex data structures, allowing deep learning models to process more data types.

An image visualizing tensors from one to five dimensions, using green squares and cubes with numbers to represent vectors, matrices, and higher-dimensional arrays.

Source: Daniel Jeffries

What does Flow in TensorFlow mean?

The flow in TensorFlow is the process by which tensors are passed through a series of operations or a computational graph, transforming input data into meaningful outputs. Let’s illustrate the concept of “flow” in TensorFlow with a practical example involving image classification, a common task in machine learning.

  1. Input tensor is where we start with a grayscale image of a cat, represented as a 2D tensor (a grid of pixel brightness values between 0-255).
  2. Pre-processing is where the tensor is resized and normalized to prepare it for the model.
  3. Convolutional Layers apply filters to the tensor, extracting features like edges and textures.
  4. Pooling Layers simplify the tensor, reducing its size while preserving important features.
  5. Fully Connected Layers interpret the features, turning them into predictions about the image’s category.
  6. The output tensor is a vector, like [0.85, 0.10, 0.05], indicating 85% confidence that the image is a cat.

In this example, flow refers to how the original cat image tensor is transformed step by step through the network’s operations. Each layer processes and passes its results to the next.

Real-world applications of TensorFlow

TensorFlow is a powerful and versatile tool used in many industries. Below are some examples of how different sectors use TensorFlow.

Image and video analysis

TensorFlow categorizes and analyzes images and videos. For example, it can be used in facial recognition technology, allowing systems to recognize people from objects in images or videos. This feature is helpful in surveillance for security, sports analysis for improving athletes’ performances, and the development of self-driving cars.

This image shows a beach scene with an object detection algorithm in action. The algorithm has identified and created bounding boxes around several objects with percentage scores indicating the confidence level of the detection.

Source: Lyudmil Vladimirov

Voice and speech recognition

Developers use TensorFlow in voice-activated software like virtual assistants (like Google Assistant or Siri). It helps these systems understand spoken commands by converting voice into text, recognizing the speaker’s intent, and identifying the speaker.


TensorFlow can process data from drones and satellites to monitor crop health, predict yields, and analyze soil conditions. This helps farmers decide when to plant, water, and harvest crops.


Manufacturers analyze the data from machine sensors with TensorFlow. They can then predict when equipment will likely fail and do maintenance in time to prevent downtime.

Recommender systems

YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, and other companies use TensorFlow to analyze past behavior, preferences, and system interactions to power their recommendation algorithms. This analysis helps them suggest videos, movies, or songs to their user base.

Game development

Game developers use TensorFlow to create more intelligent and realistic game AI. This allows non-player characters (NPCs) to learn and adapt to the player’s behavior and makes games more engaging and challenging.

The brain behind Google’s tech

TensorFlow runs on almost all Google products, including the Google Pixel 8, Gmail, Android OS, Translate, and the Google Search Engine. Even Gemini AI has been trained on the Google TensorFlow model. Android developers are increasingly incorporating artificial intelligence into their top games and applications. As this trend continues, TensorFlow is poised to become a key player. It will likely drive both current and future innovations in the field.


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