What is Artificial Intelligence? All You Need to Know About AI
What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions "artificial intelligence" (AI)?
Most of us imagine an army of human-like robots rebelling against humanity. While a few — more positive thinking folks — envision a bright future where AI serves them in all possible ways, from walking a dog early in the morning when the weather is unpleasant to peeling tangerines at Christmas.
While the second scenario is surely fun, it is a utopia per se. A reality with robots rising against people, however, is a much more probable event. If you believe AI will soon become the greatest existential threat to humanity, we've got some good news for you. Elon Musk and Bill Gates share your point of view. (What a way to boost your self-esteem, right?)
Jokes aside, the debate within the global tech community is not centered on the impact of human-like AI — as the general public thinks — but rather on the possibility of this technology fully achieving its potential. Professionals are absorbed in discussions about how to define "human-like" and "intelligence." These definitions may seem trivial to outsiders but understanding the human mind and intelligence are, in fact, critical to determining the timeline of milestones for AI. Experts are still not certain how this kind of intelligence will manifest itself or how soon day X will come, but it is clear that we are moving towards this reality with increasing speed.
This means it is high time to finally understand what AI is all about.
- What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
- Is AI the Same as Machine Learning?
- Where Is AI Used?
- Will AI Take Over?
- Closing Thoughts
What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
Basically, AI is the ability of a machine or computer program to think and learn. The concept of AI is based on the idea of building machines capable of thinking, acting, and learning like humans. The term dates back to 1956 and belongs to a Stanford researcher John McCarthy. He coined this and defined the key mission of AI as a sub-field of computer science.
A more nuanced definition is that AI is an interdisciplinary concept that studies the possibility of creating machines capable of interacting with their environment and acting upon the received data in a manner considered intelligent.
While some people falsely consider AI a technology, the more accurate approach would be seeing it as a broad concept in which machines are able to deal with tasks in a way we would deem “intelligent” or “smart.”
There are certain things a machine/computer program must be capable of to be considered AI.
First, it should be able to mimic our human thought process and behavior. Second, it should act in a human-like way — so be intelligent, rational, and ethical.
It is worth mentioning that the AI concept relates both to Weak AI and General AI with cognitive functions. Stanford has outlined a helpful AI FAQ on these topics.
Is AI the Same as Machine Learning?
Not really. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. AI is a broader concept, while machine learning is the most common application of AI.
We should understand machine learning as a current application of AI focused on developing computer programs that can access data and learn from it without human assistance or intervention. The entire machine learning concept is based on the assumption that we should give machines access to information, then let them learn from it themselves.
AI is a bunch of technologies that include machine learning and others such as natural language processing, inference algorithms, neural networks, and more.
Where Is AI Used?
Many people associate AI with the distant future. They incorrectly believe that despite all the buzz around AI, the technology is unlikely to become a part of their lives anytime soon. Little do they know how many devices, routines and services they love are already affected by it.
Take Siri or Alexa — personal assistants that have already become the new normal for thousands of people around the globe. These and similar intelligent gadgets are able to recognize our speech (read: "understand what we want or need"), analyze the information they have access to, and provide an answer or solution. What is remarkable (and a little scary) about such assistants is that they continuously learn about their users until the point at which they can accurately anticipate their needs.
Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music are some other touching points between AI and you. These services are capable of recommending music based on your interests. They monitor your choices, insert them into a learning algorithm, then suggest music you are more likely to enjoy. This particular use of AI is probably one of the simplest, but it does a good job helping us discover new songs and artists.
AI is making headway in areas you might least expect it too. For example, when you find short news stories on the Associated Press or Yahoo!, chances are they were written by AI. The current state of AI already allows for some basic robot writing. It might not yet be ready to compose in-depth pieces or creative stories, but does a pretty good job of writing short and simple articles like sports recaps and financial summaries.
Other examples in use today include smart home devices like Google's NEST, self-driving cars such as those produced by Tesla, and online games including Alien: Isolation.
And even if you use none of the above, you still interact with AI daily while surfing the internet. It is widely used in advertising to target you with the most relevant ads, personalizing messages and putting them in the places where they are most likely to impact you.
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Will AI Take Over?
Some people claim that AI is still in its infancy. Others assure us that we are only a few years away from AI gaining control over humanity. The truth lies somewhere in between.
According to the most trustworthy forecasts out there, AI will outsmart humans at virtually everything within the next 45 years. Obviously, this won't happen overnight. Industries will be falling under AI's spell one by one.
Experts predict that within this decade, AI will outperform humans in relatively simple tasks such as translating languages, writing school essays, and driving trucks. However, more complicated tasks like writing a bestselling book or working as a surgeon will take machines much more time to learn. AI is expected to master these two skills by 2049 and 2053 accordingly.
It is obviously too soon to talk about AI-powered creatures like those from Westworld or Raised by Wolves stealing our jobs or, worse yet, rising against humanity, but we are certainly moving in that direction. Meanwhile, top tech professionals and scientists are getting increasingly concerned about our future and are encouraging further research on the potential impact of AI.
It looks like those who understand the full potential are more scared of it than those who only know the basics. A recent scandal between Google's executives and employees may serve as proof. In 2018, employees of Google demanded the company stop working on a so-called "Pentagon Project" as they were afraid of being involved in the business of war. The project, officially known as "Project Maven," was meant to use AI to make it easier to classify images of people and objects shot by drones. The potential danger is that life-or-death decisions on what needs to be bombed would have been made without human involvement.
The military explains that their only intent was to reduce the current workload and minimize the number of tedious tasks performed by humans — something AI is exceptionally well-suited for.
Given that people's lives might be at stake, can these tasks even be called tedious? And there's another critical question. In a world like this, who will be responsible for killing innocent people? Us? Or our machines?
It is a widespread point of view that one day not only will AI exceed human performance but it will also extend beyond human control. With so many fearful articles out there, questions like "is AI safe?" or "is AI bad for people?" should come as no surprise. AI is obviously exciting but simultaneously warrants caution.
Given the innate advantage AI machines have over us humans (accuracy, speed, etc.) an AI rebellion scenario is something we should not completely dismiss. Only time will show us whether AI is our greatest existential threat or a tech blessing that will improve our quality of life in many different ways.
So far, one thing remains perfectly clear: creating AI is one of the most remarkable events for humankind. After all, AI is considered a major component of the 4th Industrial Revolution, and its potential socioeconomic impact is believed to be as huge as the invention of electricity once was.
In light of this, the smartest approach would be keeping an eye on the technology’s evolution, taking advantage of the improvements it brings to our lives, and not getting too nervous at the thought of a machine takeover.