artificial intelligence

AI : All what you need to know

Every day, a large portion of the population is at the mercy of rising technology, yet a few actually understand what it is AI. You know, HAL 9000 and Marvin the paranoid Android? Thanks to books and movies, each generation has formed its own fantasy of a world ruled or at least served by robots. We have been conditioned to expect flying cars that steer clear of traffic and robotic maids whipping up our weekday dinner. However, if the age of AI is here, why don’t our lives look more like the Jetson’s?

Well, for starters this is a cartoon. And if you have ever browsed Netflix movie suggestions or told Alexa to order you a large pepperoni pizza, you are probably interacting with AI more than you realize. AI is designed so that you do not realize there is a computer calling the shots. But that also makes understanding what AI is, and what it is not, a little complicated. In basic terms AI is a broad area of computer science that makes machines seem like they have human intelligence. Therefore, it is not only programming a computer to drive a car by obeying traffic signals, but it is when that program also learns to exhibit signs of human-like road rage.

As intimidating as it may seem, this technology is not new. In fact, for the past half-a-century, it has been an idea ahead of its time. The term “artificial intelligence” was first coined back in 1956 by Dartmouth professor John McCarthy. Who called together a group of computer scientists and mathematicians to see if machines are capable of learning like a young child does, using trial and error to develop formal reasoning. The project proposal says they will figure out how to make machines “use language, form abstractions and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans and improve themselves.” That was more than 60 years ago. Since then, AI has remained for the most part in university classrooms and super secret labs… but that is changing.

Like all exponential curves, it’s hard to tell when a line that is slowly ticking upwards is going to skyrocket. Nevertheless, during the past few years, a couple of factors have led to AI becoming the next “big” thing:

First of all, huge amounts of data are being created every minute. In fact, 90 per cent of the world’s data has been generated in the past two years. And now thanks to advances in processing speeds, computers can actually make sense of all this information more quickly. Because of this, tech giants and venture capitalists have bought into AI and are infusing the market with cash and new applications. Very soon Ai will become a little less artificial, and a lot more intelligent. Now the question is: Should you brace yourself for yet another terminator movie, live on your city streets?

Not exactly. In fact, stop thinking of robots. When it comes to AI, a robot is nothing more than a shell concealing what is actually used to power the technology. That means AI can manifest itself in many different ways. Let’s break down the options. First, you have your bots. They are text-based and incredibly powerful, but they have limitations. Ask a weather bot for the forecast, and they will tell you it is partly cloudy with a high of 57. But ask that same bot what time it is in Tokyo, and it will get a little confused. That is because the bot’s creator only programmed it to give you the weather by pulling from a specific data source.

Natural language processing makes these bots a bit more sophisticated. When you ask Siri or Cortana where the closest gas station is, it is just translating your voice into text, feeding it into a search engine, and reading the answer back in human syntax. In other words, you do not have to speak in codes.

At the far end of the spectrum is machine learning, and honestly, it is one of the most exciting areas of AI. Like a human, a machine retains information and becomes smarter over time. But unlike a human, it is not susceptible to things like short term memory loss, information overload, sleep deprivation, and distractions. But how do these machines actually learn?
Well, while it may be easy for a human to know the difference between a dog and a cat, for a computer, not so much. When you only consider physical appearance, the difference between cats and dogs can be a little gray. You can say cats have pointed ears when dogs have floppy ears, but those rules are not universal. Between tail length, fur texture and colour, there are a lot of options, and that means a lot of tedious rules someone would have to program manually to help a computer spot the difference. But remember, machine learning is about making machines learn like humans. And like any toddler, that means that they have to learn by experience.

Generations have long imagined the ramifications of AI, visualizing a society where machines seek revenge. However, the more logical and pressing question is: How will AI affect your job?

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