Artificial intelligence. To many, the phrase summons up science-fiction images of soulless, disembodied computer brains plotting to take over the world. To the more tech-savvy, artificial intelligence — or AI — is merely a technological tool to be employed in the inexorable march to the future.
If you don’t really know what AI is, you’re not alone. In a 2017 survey, the multinational professional network Deloitte found the great majority of American senior business executives don’t have enough grasp of the topic.
“The survey began with 1,500 senior executives, but most were still gaining an understanding of the technology and were not familiar with its application in their companies. Roughly 17% (250 respondents) were familiar with both the concepts and their applications in their companies,” Deloitte researchers wrote.
If executives running companies employing thousands of workers don’t truly “get” what AI is and how it impacts the future of their industries, it’s no wonder most regular folks consider it a rather alien concept.
But nothing about artificial intelligence is alien — it is a ubiquitous, and some might say insidious, part of daily life. Here, according to Forbes magazine, are 10 examples of AI-driven technologies many of us employ every day:
- Facial recognition — Unlocks your cell phone and protects it from being used by anyone else
- Social media — Personalizes your newsfeed, determines which posts you see first, gears advertisements to your interests based on your “likes” and posts
- Emails and direct messages — Spelling and grammar checking, spam detection, anti-virus protections
- Google searches — Anticipates answers based on location and search history, targets you with personalized ads
- Digital voice assistants — Siri, Alexa, Cortana and even your TV remotes learn your voice to provide answers and accomplish tasks
- “Smart” home devices — Thermostats that learn your habits and heating and cooling preferences, refrigerators that let you know when you need to buy milk
- Commuting — Maps, directions, traffic and weather alerts, alternative routes and even self-driving cars
- Banking — Fraud detection, account alerts, check deposits by phone, unusual or out-of-town purchase alerts
- Amazon — The retail giant’s algorithms know what you like and encourage you to buy again
- Streaming services — Hulu, Netflix and others use your past viewing history to suggest what other programs, genres and actors you might want to watch.
While modern users may employ AI as a matter of convenience, they may also find themselves unemployed as a result of artificial intelligence in the not-so-distant future, according to a 2017 study conducted by Oxford and Yale scientists.
“Researchers predict AI will outperform humans in many activities in the next 10 years, such as translating languages (by 2024), writing high school essays (by 2026), driving a truck (by 2027), working in retail (by 2031), writing a bestselling book (by 2049) and working as a surgeon (by 2053).
“Researchers believe there is a 50% chance of AI outperforming humans in all tasks in 45 years and of automating all human jobs in 120 years, with Asian respondents expecting these dates much sooner than North Americans,” according to the scientists’ report. Yet for all the headlong rush into smart technologies in recent years, the idea behind them is nothing new.
Computer pioneer Alan Turing began exploring the concept of “thinking” machines 70 years ago, and the term “artificial intelligence” was coined in 1956 by Turing’s contemporary, John McCarthy, who defined AI as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.”
More than half a century later, humans are now beginning to wonder if the machines have finally outsmarted their makers. Machines can already beat humans at all manner of computations and strategy games like chess. They are now performing surgery and flying airplanes.
Perhaps the key is not to define “artificial intelligence,” but to contemplate what makes for true human intelligence. Machines can be taught to paint in the style of Van Gogh, but mimicry isn’t the same thing as creativity, engineers point out. Ethics and emotion also are key aspects of human intelligence.
“Human empathy and kindness are an important part of intelligence,” writes Eliza Kosoy, a researcher in MIT’s Center for Brains, Minds and Machines.
“In this domain, I doubt AI will ever outsmart us.”
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