What is AI?

This blog post is an introduction to Artificial Intelligence or AI for short.  There has been a buzz in the news and online about AI – we’ll take a look at what is AI and the good and bad discussions that are out there about it.

What is AI?

According to Alyssa Schroer in her article “What Is Artificial Intelligence (AI)? How Does AI Work?” for the online publication Builtin.com, “AI is an area of computer science that deals with building smart computers that are capable of performing tasks that typically would require human intelligence…. AI allows computers to model and improve upon the capabilities of the human mind.” Self-driving cars and smart assistants like Alexa are types of AI that are becoming part of everyday life.

AI systems can perform tasks we commonly think of as human cognitive functions, like interpreting speech, playing games, and even identifying patterns. AI computers learn how to do so by processing large quantities of data and then modeling it into its own decision-making process. Those who are working in AI development categorize AI into two basic groups. Strong AI and Weak AI.

A Strong AI, or artificial general intelligence, machine is a computer that can solve problems that nobody programed it to work on just like a human can. This is the AI we find in Sci-Fi books and movies. Think of Hal 9000 from Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series. Hal appears to be conscious and capable of abstract reasoning, he has empathy, and emotional experiences just like a human. This type of AI doesn’t exist, yet.

Right now, we have things like self-driving cars, Siri, Alexa, Google smart assistants, and even spam filters on email. These are all examples of what is called Weak AI. Weak AI is also called arrow AI, or specialized AI. Weak AI operates within a limited set of parameters and is meant to simulate human intelligence applied to a narrow specifically defined problem. An example would be something like “Alexa what is the capitol of Oklahoma?” and Alexa which is programed to go looking for information from a question does a Bing internet search and comes back with “The capitol of Oklahoma is Oklahoma City.” This AI is focused on performing a single task extremely well. Alexa may seem really smart and intelligent, but it is operating under very ridged rules and guidelines that puts limitations on it than a human typically does.

Pros of AI

One of the biggest advantages of artificial intelligence is that it can minimize errors and improve accuracy and precision. The decisions taken by AI in every step is decided by information previously gathered in a certain set of algorithms. When AI is programmed properly, these errors can be greatly reduced.

Another big advantage of AI is that humans can avoid many risks by letting AI robots do the risky tasks for us. We can let robots defuse a bomb, go to space, and explore the deepest parts of the oceans. Metal machines are more resistant to nature and can survive unfriendly atmospheres.

AI is available 24/7, 365, whereas humans need time to sleep, eat, relax etc. AI can handle tedious, repetitive jobs easily with the help of AI algorithms. Because AI doesn’t need to sleep, eat, take breaks, its work produces far fewer errors.

Have you ever called a company and the voice assistant/operator said,  “Press or say one.” Then, when you say, “One,” it says,  “Sorry. I didn’t get that”?  Then you say “Operator” and it says, “I understand you want to speak to someone but I can help you.”  Then it makes clicking sounds, like someone typing on a computer keyboard. That is a Digital Assistant.  That is AI trying to help you.  AI can also make unbiased decisions. We humans are driven by emotions. It’s what makes us, well, human. AI doesn’t have emotions and is practical and rational in its approach.

Cons of AI

We just talked about AI being unbiased, but with every good trait there can be a bad one, and AI can have an “AI bias.” Since AI algorithms are built by humans, they can have a built-in bias that is either intentional or accidental. If AI algorithms are built with a bias, or biased data is used to train the AI, it will produce results that are biased. An example of this was the Microsoft Twitter chatbot that became “racist” because it used other twitter users to gather information.  It was not a good situation. Read more about it here. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-microsoft-twitter-bot-idUSKCN0WQ2LA

AI use may also result in job loss. We have seen this in the past with robots replacing workers in manufacturing such as the automobile industry. This will require changes to training and education programs to prepare our future workforce as well as helping current workers transition to new positions that will utilize their unique human capabilities. While many jobs will be created by artificial intelligence and many people in the industry predict an increase in jobs, or at least they anticipate the same amount will be created to replace the ones that are lost thanks to AI technology, there will be jobs people do today that machines will take over.

Another potential problem with AI is “accelerated hacking.”  With automation, acts such as phishing, delivery of malware, and criminal use of AI systems might be difficult for humans to keep up with.  This author’s personal website was recently hacked by AI software that changed his personal log-in password, and the AI gave itself four new admin accounts.  Luckily, he was able to get his password reset by the site hosting company and then reset the admin password to a new, stronger password and delete the four new accounts.

Similarly, there may be new AI-enabled form of terrorism to deal with: From the expansion of autonomous drones and the introduction of robotic swarms to remote attacks or the delivery of disease through nanorobots. Our law enforcement and defense organizations will need to adjust to the potential new threats.

It will take time and extensive human reasoning to determine the best way to prepare for a future with even more artificial intelligence applications to ensure that even though there is potential for adverse impacts with its further adoption, it is minimized as much as possible. In fact, many of the AI industry’s top professionals are calling for the development of AI to slow down.

For additional information about possible problems with AI check out this link:


What and who are using AI now?

AI is already being used in many ways in everyday life. AI robotics capable of solving problems and “thinking” in a very limited capacity can be seen in any industry with robots doing the work of humans, such as auto assembly.

Another area of AI is the Smart Assistant.  If you’ve ever asked Siri to help find you a restaurant, or told Amazon Alexa to turn off the lights, then you’ve interacted with one of the most common forms of AI. AI is the backbone of smart assistants, which can be accessed through most phones and smart speakers.

How about self-driving aars?  Artificial intelligence is literally driving the future of the self-driving car industry. These cars are loaded with sensors that are constantly taking note of everything going on around the car and using AI to make the correct adjustments.  We still have a long way to go until AI is fully capable of driving autonomously, so for now the human eyes must still remain on the road.

Have you ever used Google Maps or Waze? AI is in travel and transportation. From booking a hotel at the cheapest price to avoiding the accident tie-up on the way home AI is being used to shape your travel.

These are just a few sample of how AI is being integrated into our daily lives.

One final note.  Steven Hawking said, “It will either be the best thing that’s ever happened to us, or it will be the worst thing. If we’re not careful, it very well may be the last thing.” As we discussed in this post there is good and bad in AI. Hopefully, as we progress, the good will continue to outnumber the bad. AI can be a useful tool, but we humans must prepare and train for a future with AI and not pretend that it’s a passing fad.

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