Artificial Intelligence (AI) hits the headlines a lot. Whether it’s threatening to take your job or offering to be your virtual assistant, this latest development often promises to improve your life in some way.But how will AI impact us? Do we really need AI to be more efficient or happier? What is “AI” anyway? The amount of information out there can be confusing, and it doesn’t help when a lot of it is conflicting or debatable. It’s time for a reality check. Everyone can nonetheless agree on this: love it or loathe it, AI is here to stay and its influence on your life is only going to increase. This guide will first help you answer that elusive question, “what is AI?” and then it will inform you of the potential impacts of AI, what you can expect from it, and what you can (hopefully) look forward to from AI.
What Is AI?You’ll no doubt be familiar with computer programs and software. You don’t have to be an expert to see how technology is assisting us: automating tasks, entertaining us, managing our data…the list goes on. The core idea of AI describes a computer system that can learn from data in order to operate better in new situations. How we demonstrate, test, and measure intelligence becomes, of course, an important consideration now. The aim of AI is to empower computers to learn, adapt, and “think.” For a system to be classified as an “AI,” it must demonstrate behaviors we associate with human intelligence, including but not limited to any combination of the following:
What Is Narrow AI?Narrow AI systems can learn how to do specific activities and operate within that pre-defined range. That narrow range is generally delimited by the data on which that AI was trained. Narrow AI systems can’t generalize much beyond the field of operations that they were designed to service ( e.g. predictive maintenance AIs can’t figure out the stock market, and so forth). Narrow AI systems are specific tools. Even though narrow AI is often referred to as ‘weak AI’, the technology is impressive nonetheless, and it has been changing how we live and work for some time. It can do everything from interpreting video feeds from drones to recognizing potential tumors from X-rays to deciding what should go into your Facebook feed so that you stay there longer.
What Is General AI?General AI refers to an adaptable intellect—one that can be applied to (or apply itself to) different tasks. Created with mechanisms to make decisions in entirely new situations, it can re-use knowledge as humans would do. In other words, it’s an intelligent system capable of thinking and reacting in a similar way to us. AI experts need to know about human psychology and biology in detail if they’re going to create a general AI. We humans can think abstractly. We can create thoughts and ideas seemingly out of nowhere. We can create new information rather than just interpreting old information. We can solve problems “intuitively.” Getting a program to replicate this isn’t easy. For this reason, experts are divided on whether it’s even feasible.
How AI Is Already Helping UsExperts haven’t spent years researching and testing out the capabilities of AI. They do this because they believe it can revolutionize the way we live. Its influence seems to reach into all domains of life. It could be easy to dwell on how much further general AI has to go, but that would undervalue how much narrow AI is impacting us. Let’s focus on what general AI is already capable of doing:
- Speeding up processes
- Improving security
- Remembering stuff we tend to forget
Could AI Be Bad For Humans?Technology isn’t without its drawbacks. Some people are more skeptical about the risks of AI than others. Stephen Hawking warned us about just how far AI could go:
“I believe there is no deep difference between what can be achieved by a biological brain and what can be achieved by a computer. It, therefore, follows that computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence—and exceed it” — Steven Hawking
The Big Question: Could AI Replace Us?The AI-focused infographic on which this article is based discusses how you aren’t alone if you have hesitations about the growing involvement of technology in our lives. Change is daunting. If films have taught us anything, it’s that we should fear how robots could destroy us. But that’s far from reality—for the time being at least. Most of the AI we experience now is narrow AI. Predictions about how long it’ll take us to achieve general AI range from one to several decades to never. When people talk about robots taking over, they’re talking about a type of super intelligence that simply doesn’t exist yet. What’s more, we’re at risk of jeopardizing future developments if we exaggerate the risk. It’s a point Chris Bishop, Director of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, emphasizes.
Chris Bishop believes the future lies in closer cooperation between humans and machines. We certainly look forward to seeing how we use AI to enhance—not to threaten—human endeavors. AI currently describes a really good toolset. Let’s keep it that way by continuing to hone and improve our tools. Written by Clay Morrison, a freelance graphic artist, neophyte blogger, and a gaming junkie. He loves tech topics related to AI, VR, and Hyperloop. Follow him on Twitter: @ClayMediaProd.
“Any scenario in which [AI] is an existential threat to humanity is not just around the corner… I think they must be talking decades away for those comments to make any sense. Right now, we are in control of that technology and we can make lots of choices about the paths that we follow.” — Chris Bishop