What is artificial intelligence?

Posted on: 2nd November 2018

As humans, we’re lucky enough to be considered the smartest lifeforms on Earth. Just look around any city and you can marvel at everything humans have achieved thus far, the buildings that grow ever taller, the cars that get ever faster, and perhaps the most important thing, the computer technology that is quickly advancing.

What if we tried to replicate our own intelligence and place it in a culmination of wiring and circuit boards. What would be the result? The answer to that is artificial intelligence.

Explaining artificial intelligence

By definition, something that’s artificial is made or produced by human beings instead of occurring naturally, so the act of creating intelligence is no small feat.

We can now successfully develop computer systems that are able to carry out tasks that were at one point only seen as possible by humans. However, implementing features into modern technology like speech recognition and decision-making is only scratching the surface of the possibilities of artificial intelligence.

Humans are always striving to make advancements and take things further and further, so it’s a safe assumption that the state of artificial intelligence will be very different 10 years, 5 years, or even 1 year from now. Artificial intelligence might be more present in your life than you realise.

Examples of artificial intelligence

Many modern smartphones have a feature that is, albeit simple, an example of artificial intelligence. Digital ‘personal assistants’ like Siri or Alexa are able to recognise your voice and then interact with you based on what you say or ask. Capable of things like finding information and helping you keep track of your daily goings-on, they use machine-learning technology to get smarter and become more fluent at predicting and understanding the questions and requests of humans.

In a way, even services like Netflix or Google utilise artificial intelligence to some extent. When you use Netflix, you’re recommended films and TV that you’re expected to enjoy based on your reactions and choices of films in the past. Social networks like Facebook also utilise artificial intelligence to detect faces in photos and then suggests friends for you to tag. Many of us don’t stop and think about how impressive it is that a computer system is able to detect faces and match them with those of your friends.

Video games use artificial intelligence to create non-player characters (NPCs) that act as if you were playing alongside or against a human player. The goal is to make the NPCs have responsive and adaptive behaviours to make gameplay more dynamic. In some cases, the AI will learn from the player and adapt to their playstyle over time. Artificial intelligence can also be applied to real world games, since 1997, a tournament known as RoboCup has been held in which robots using artificial intelligence play football, with the end goal being a team of robots that can beat the 2050 human world cup champion team.

The future of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is always being improved upon. It could soon become an aspect of commuting as self-driving vehicles look to become the norm. Companies like Tesla and Waymo have been working on self-driving cars for years and they’re even at a point where they’ve had successful tests on public roads.

Imagine having a car where you could sit back and relax whilst it analyses your surroundings and safely transports you to your destination through smart mapping. It seems like something from science-fiction, but it could soon be our reality.

Perhaps the most interesting possibility that comes from artificial intelligence is the potential for a robot to behave the way a human does. The closest thing to this at the moment is the Sophia robot by Hanson Robotics. Designed to be a social humanoid robot, Sophia was activated in 2016 and continues to learn and grow from her interactions with the world around her. The robot utilises artificial intelligence for visual data processing and facial recognition. Is Sophia an early glimpse at the future of robots that are able to think for themselves?

Is artificial intelligence dangerous?

Robots like Sophia are actually a cause for concern to some people. Her growing intelligence begs the question: ‘how smart can a robot become?’

It is a fear of many that as artificial intelligence develops, robots will become more sentient and begin to question their place in the world. It is an idea that has been planted in our mind through science-fiction like Westworld and Terminator, but is there any merit to it? When you look at the accomplishments already made by artificial intelligence, it’s not a huge stretch to assume that one day it could lead into machines gaining consciousness and setting their own initiatives and goals they want to achieve. Will that goal be to eradicate humans? Probably not.

There’s certain to be some interesting moral debates on the horizon though as well as some changes to the way we live our lives as we rely more and more on ‘robotic assistants’ to make our own lives easier.