A Look at AI, Without the Hype

January 3, 2019 - 9 minutes read

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What will be the true impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on humanity? With the acceleration of AI development in recent years and an incredible amount of hype behind it, getting an accurate picture of this technology can be difficult.

Will it make our lives more efficient? Will it steal our jobs? And what is AI, really? In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into all of this and more!

What’s AI?

If you’re a fan of our blog, it’s safe to assume you’re familiarized with computer software. Over the last few years, this technology has vastly grown in terms of capabilities. Today, we have computer systems and software that manage our workflows, automate tasks for us, and even enhance our entertainment.

The list is practically endless. But you can usually trace these abilities back to AI. AI can be viewed as any computer system that improves itself by learning from data and adapting. With that being said, it’s easy to see how the lines get blurred on what truly constitutes thought and intelligence.

For the most part, AI systems can demonstrate and implement certain facets of human intelligence through a combination of creativity and computational complexity. This allows them to complete tasks that require planning, logic, problem-solving, prediction, and generalization. To categorize AI, experts usually refer to two terms: ‘Narrow AI’ and ‘General AI.’

Narrow AI

It’s highly probable that you’ve utilized Narrow AI today already in some capacity. You can find it in Apple’s Siri, Netflix’s recommendations for your next show to binge, Tesla’s autonomous car systems, Amazon’s shopping suggestions… you get the point.

Narrow AI is extremely useful when implemented as specific solutions to specific situations. For instance, it can help you book a hotel for your vacation or it can be used to monitor when maintenance is needed for your car. But you can’t have the same Narrow AI system doing both.

Narrow AI is a superb solution when dealing with a particular, pre-defined problem. But through the data it’s trained on, it only becomes equipped to handle that scenario and nothing more. It cannot generalize for other areas. A Narrow AI system trained to analyze x-rays cannot be employed to predict the stock market. To make such a versatile system possible, you’d need to turn to General AI.

General AI

You can think of General AI as adaptable intelligence. Theoretically, a General AI system can be applied to a variety of tasks and even handle entirely new scenarios it hasn’t seen before. This category of AI is still very much in its developmental phase; it is extremely difficult to create since it much more closely resembles how humans operate compared to Narrow AI. But that’s also what makes it so special.

Imagine an intelligent system that can think and react in a way identical to our own train of thought and action. As humans, we take our intuitive ability to synthesize information, think abstractly, and create new concepts for granted. How profound this capability really is only becomes clear when trying to recreate it in a machine.

Seen as a ‘holy grail’ of AI, General AI is actually a divisive topic for those working in the field. Many experts believe it is not feasible. But others see the immense benefits it could offer and see the endeavor to try to create it as worthwhile, even if it ends up being impossible.

How AI Is Already Helping Us

AI’s influence knows no bounds. It can (and is) affecting virtually all areas of our lives. Yes, General AI may not be commercially available yet. But to downplay the effects that Narrow AI has already had on humanity would be a disservice to the technology. AI has helped humanity tremendously in three main capabilities: speed, memory, and safety.

The first category is perhaps the most obvious. Before AI, machines could already operate much faster than humans when it came to certain tasks. And with AI, these machines can work even faster and more accurately than ever before.

Similarly, AI’s ability to remember and apply its memory is simply on another level when compared to humans. It can remember your thermostat settings and schedule with pinpoint precision. It does not get distracted by anything. And it could recall the exact amount of time, down to milliseconds, that you’ve spent watching any show or movie in your whole life if we wanted it to.

Last but not least, AI’s ability to be meticulous has earned it a top spot in security. Organizations around the world are already utilizing it to identify, analyze, and take care of threats. This ranges from detecting cybersecurity compromises to finding fraud in bank systems.

Can AI Really Replace Us?

Predictions on when we’ll achieve viable General AI range from decades to never. But with the capabilities Narrow AI already has, it’s no wonder why so many people are afraid AI may take our jobs. Change can be scary. Especially when it’s unknown.

Fortunately, our future with AI looks bright. After many assessments, experts have reached a variety of predictions. Some say that, yes, AI will take away some jobs, but not more than the number of jobs it creates. Others argue that our future with AI won’t be one of obsolescence as much as it is one of cooperation; it will be a tool that aids us in every facet of our lives.

But regardless of their difference in opinions, generally, all experts agree that worrying about the disruption AI will bring doesn’t do anyone any good. In fact, exaggerating and focusing on this risk could be detrimental to the positive developments we could soon realize with AI.

Like the General AI we’re trying to create, staying open-minded and adaptable is the best course. Here’s how Chris Bishop, the Director of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, puts it: “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.”

At the end of the day, AI is a tool for humanity. And its effects largely depend on how we use it. What AI innovations are you hoping to see from tech hubs like San Francisco? How do you use AI today? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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