What is artificial intelligence (AI)? It is usually used to describe computers, machines, or software that mimic “cognitive” functions that humans associate with the human mind. Among them are “learning” and “problem solving.” The definition of AI has changed dramatically over the years.
As computers have become faster and more capable of simulating these cognitive functions, many of these functions have been removed from the definition of AI. A prime example of this is optical character recognition, which just a few years ago was considered an intelligent function for computers, mainly because the task was difficult.
Optical character recognition is able to take a picture of a page of text and turn it into text that can be edited in a word processing program or analyzed for content. Dr. Larry Tesler created a theorem of AI that is commonly quoted as “Artificial Intelligence is whatever hasn’t been done yet.” What he said was: “intelligence is whatever machines haven’t done yet.” In Tesler’s definition AI will constantly change because if it ever reaches a point that it can do anything we can do, it would then just be intelligence with nothing artificial about it.
The current technologies referred to as AI include human speech recognition, strategic game systems, autonomous vehicles, intelligent content delivery networks, and military training simulations. All of these will eventually become such mainstream technology that something new will define AI.
There are currently three main fields of study in AI, data analytics, human-inspired intelligence, and humanized artificial intelligence. The most advanced of these three fields in my opinion is the data analytics field. Analytics AI learns based on past experiences to inform future decisions using cognitive intelligence to represent the world, much like a toddler learns to talk. Among tasks that fall into this category are image recognition, “Is this a picture of a cat or a dog?”; text content classification, “Is this article for or against a flat tax?”; intelligent routing, “Which route should I take to get around the accident ahead?” and product recommendation, “Since you bought the new iPhone, you might be interested in a case?” We have all experienced AI in our everyday lives, probably without even noticing it.
The area of human inspired intelligence makes an assumption that human intelligence “can be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it.” This particular field brings about all kinds of ethical issues. Should we be attempting to create artificial beings endowed with human-like intelligence? There are several science fiction books and movies based on AI becoming a danger to humanity. This is the area of AI that is addressed in most of these stories. I believe the much larger risk of AI is the creation of mass unemployment, as machines are more and more capable of performing everyday human tasks.
The third area is humanized artificial intelligence. This is using AI to replace human characters in real life and in stories. Prime examples are the soldiers in the popular video game series “Call of Duty.” These soldiers make “intelligent” decisions based on the environment, including the interaction with human players. These humanized beings are also used in telephone support to remove the first level of contact. If you call a help desk, bank, or credit card company and a computer answers with a human-like voice asking, “What can I help you with today?” and gives the ability to answer in complete sentences, it is using humanized AI.
Is AI something we should be worried about, or something we should embrace? I leave that up to the reader.