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Artificial Intelligence: Not as Smart as You Think

Posted on 2020-09-30 10:31:11

We at Sound IT often field technology questions from readers. A popular question has been, "What is Arificial Intelligence?" We answer the question in this article. The explainer is just for your knowledge. You don't have to do anything with your computers or smartphones beyond just enjoying the article.

The public has gained most of its information about Artificial Intelligence (AI) from Hollywood movies. Audiences' first brush with AI near-death experiences came in 2001; that is, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The AI in that 1968 Stanley Kubrick film realized it had screwed up its job and tried to jettison the remaining astronaut on the mission. Less famous films like Forbin: The Colossus Project (1970) saw a global AI plan to blow up humanity, the source of the world's problems. Of course, in Terminator (1984), AI saw humanity as a threat to AI existence. The reality of AI is less dramatic than all that, of course. In fact, AI is already here.

AI in Daily Life

While the term “artificial intelligence” dates back to 1956, it has taken many decades to become applicable in our daily lives. Stanford researcher John McCarthy coined the term and defined the key mission of AI as a part of computer science. It's become big business since then. The global artificial intelligence market size was valued at USD 39.9 billion in 2019. It's expected to grow nearly 50% per year through 2027.

You can now find AI in the anti-lock brakes on our car systems. It drives our Google online searches, alerts our spam filters, and powers driverless cars. It recommends books to us on Amazon, opens us to new acts on Spotify and powers Amazon Alexa's spooky laugh.

AI has also come into our daily lives through a technology that delivers sight to the blind through computer vision, as Facebook does with its images. It is also in translation software like Google Translate, while IBM's AI Watson has won a championship on the American quiz show Jeopardy. 

The most recent and astonishing applications have come from the team that is developing DeepMind, an A.I company that Google acquired in 2014. In 2016, it's AI software, called Alpha Go Zero,took six hours to teach itself  how to play Chess and to beat the most sophisticated Chess playing program in the world.

Today's AI Is Kind of Dumb

The process by which AlphaGo became expert at playing Chess is called machine learning. Machine learning requires AI systems to index and cross-reference their "experience" with incredible amounts of data to become "intelligent." The algorithms built into AlphaGo instructed it to play itself and "learn" Chess.  An algorithm is just a fancy name for software programs that have a set of rules and steps built into them to produce an outcome programmers have defined as success.  AlphaGo had to play itself 44 million times to master Chess. Amazon uses a similar approach to recommend books to readers. 

One of Amazon's AI algorithms identifies customer buying patterns for books and matches them to other books that have a high probability of satisfying reader tastes. Amazon then "suggests" the additional books to the customer just as an experienced human bookseller would.  

The Different Kinds of AI

One of the ways to think of the development of AI is in three stages: Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and Super-Intelligent (or Sentient).

All AI today is narrow. Researchers use what is called machine learning to teach AI how to perform specific tasks. Developers feed an AI computer system large amounts of data, which it then uses to learn how to carry out the activity for which it has been updated. 

Netflix technology is narrow, or ANI. The Netflix AI excels at a single specialized task: recognizing and prioritizing customer viewing preferences. AlphaGo's narrow AIs do incredibly well at playing the game of Chess. However, push the board aside and place a Backgammon board "in front" of the computer and it would not know where to begin.

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) doesn't exist yet. It is supposed to be able to adapt its responses to its environment from one context to another. AGI will be resourceful, learning on its own from its environment what it needs to perform activities. AGI can mimic human thought and response. Something as simple as having a robot move from walking across a floor to climbing stairs requires AGI. Narrow AI would not be able to adapt quickly enough to make the change in contexts for locomotion.

Super-intelligent AI agents, like HAL, in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey," are a long way off in the future. AI sentience elicits all sorts of discussions about how humans and AI will solve seemingly intractable problems. One of the most pressing concerns that AGI will help scientists better understand climate change. Predicting highly-changeable weather patterns and human migration paths will prove key to making informed government policy decisions.

So, we won't be seeing robots with AI brains walking around anytime soon. However, we will see more narrow AI do simple or routine jobs that we don't do as fast or as well as a machine. 

And, certainly, no time soon will they be coming for us.


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