How many of you have asked this? “Hey Siri, please play the Beatles,” or “Hey Google, what time is it in Sunshine Beach, Australia?” When you are talking to Siri, Alexa, or Google, you are talking to an artificial intelligence agent and this artificial intelligence is learning your personal preferences. The more you use the device, the more it learns, and the more accurately it can anticipate your every need.
When someone mentions artificial intelligence, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Most of us imagine an army of human-like robots rebelling against humanity, while a few—folks from a more positive thinking community—envision a bright future.
So what exactly is artificial intelligence?
Artificial intelligence is not a magical program that can think like a human. The term artificial intelligence, abbreviated AI, dates back to 1956 and belongs to a Stanford researcher named John McCarthy, who invented the term. The concept of what defines AI has changed over time, but at the core there has always been the idea of building machines capable of thinking like humans. In a nutshell, AI’s goal is to make computers or computer programs smart enough to imitate the behavior of the human mind.
It is very likely that you have interacted with some form of AI in your day-to-day activities. If you use Gmail, you may enjoy the automatic spam filters. According to Google, Gmail blocks 100 million spam messages daily with its artificial intelligence agent.
Computers are everywhere today, and it would be almost impossible to go your entire life without using one. The cars, ATMs, and TVs that we use every day all contain computers, and many of them rely on AI.
If you own a smartphone, you probably fill out a calendar with the help of Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, or Samsung’s Bixby. If you own a newer vehicle, perhaps you have benefited from a driver-assist feature while driving. These are all possible because of artificial intelligence.
As convenient and helpful as these products are, they lack the ability to learn independently. They cannot think outside their code, which is the written set of instructions that tells the AI what to do. Machine learning, however, is a branch of AI that give machines the ability to learn a task without pre-existing code. Machine learning studies a special type of instructions called algorithms, which are step-by-step instructions used to do something. For example: if you sort your laundry before washing, you probably use an algorithm. If the laundry is white you put it in the left pile, if it colored, you put it in the right pile, and you repeat until you have sorted through all of your laundry. That is an algorithm.
Machine learning uses a set of instructions that improve automatically based on experience. In other words, what makes machine-learning algorithms different from others is that they are able to learn from the data that we feed to them.
So how does machine learning work? In the simplest terms, machines are given a large amount of examples for a certain task. As they go through these examples, the machines learn and adapt their strategy to achieve goals. Image-recognition is a good example. An image-recognition machine may be given millions of pictures to analyze. After going through many changes, the machine acquires the ability to recognize patterns, shapes, faces, and more. Speech recognition works the same way.
Artificial intelligence can be broken down into two types: Weak AI and Strong AI. Weak AI, also known as Narrow AI, can handle only one task at a time. It can select your favorite song from Spotify, filter email spam, or instruct a self-driving car.
Strong AI, also known as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), is much more sophisticated. This type of AI refers to a system which is able to cope with a generalized task, much like a human. AGI can successfully perform any intellectual task that a human being can. This is the sort of AI that we see in movies like “Her” or other sci-fi movies in which humans interact with machines and operating systems These artificial intelligent agents are conscious, can sense things, and are driven by emotion and self-awareness. But for machines to achieve true human-like intelligence, they will need to be capable of experiencing consciousness. Despite some truly amazing innovations in AI concepts over the last 20 years, this has not yet happened.
Curious as to how AI learns? Typically, there are three learning methods:
In supervised learning, the computer scientist would label the correct answer and the AI would learn the pattern by comparing the correct answer with other possible answers.
In unsupervised learning, the scientist would not provide the correct answer… algorithms infer patterns from a dataset without reference to known, or labeled, outcomes. This can get very technical.
Reinforcement learning plays a relatively minor role in training AI and is similar to training an animal. When the animal displays a desired behavior it is given a reward. The computer takes a suitable action to maximize reward in a particular situation. This is very complex and very geeky.
Intelligent computer systems can and do benefit us all. Let’s look at a few simple applications of AI:
Apple’s Siri is one of the most popular personal assistants offered, and works on Apple computers, iPhones, iPads, and the Apple watch. She helps us to find information, get directions, send messages, make voice calls, open applications and add events to the calendar. Siri uses machine-learning technology in order to get smarter and to better understand natural language questions and requests.
Netflix is a widely popular content-on-demand service that uses predictive technology to offer recommendations on the basis of the user’s reaction, interests, choices, and behavior. The technology examines content to recommend movies based on your previous liking and reactions. It is turning more intelligent every year.
Pandora is considered the world’s most powerful music discovery platform, using its proprietary algorithm to determine which music to play to a subscriber at any given time. Also known as the DNA of music, Pandora’s expert musicians use 400 musical characteristics to individually analyze each song. The AI algorithm then recommends you a personalized playlist of song.
Nest was one of the most famous and successful artificial intelligence startups and was acquired by in 2014 for $3.2 billion. The Nest Learning Thermostat uses behavioral algorithms to save energy based on your behavior and schedule. It uses a very intelligent machine learning process that learns the temperature you like and programs itself in about a week. Moreover, if nobody is home it will automatically turn off to save energy.
Flying drones are some of my favorite toys. They indicate a powerful machine learning system that can translate the environment into a 3D model through sensors and video cameras. They magically fly!
Amazon Echo & Apple HomePod
These are revolutionary products that can help you to search the web for information, schedule appointments, shop, control lights, switches, thermostats, answers questions, read audiobooks, reports traffic and weather, gives info on local businesses, report sports scores and schedules.
Smart watches equipped with advanced AI will monitor your every move. In the old days, we had to walk 10 miles to school in the snow - or so we thought. Now we have smartwatches, phone apps and artificial intelligence wearables to tell us exactly how far we are walking or running. They also track our heart rate, the number of calories burned and many other metrics.
Artificial Intelligence is gaining popularity at a quicker pace, influencing the way we live, and interact with our environment. Internet–of-things (IoT) devices cannot function without artificial intelligence, and artificial intelligence, in turn, needs IoT devices to be of greater use for humanity. Together, both these technologies hold the power to transform our lives.