What is AI?

Okay, maybe Hal wasn't so seamless.

When we talk about artificial intelligence (AI) most people still imagine robots who can talk, act, and behave (to a certain extent) like a human being — like a C-3PO (Star Wars), sans the metallic look.

Or maybe, a supercomputer that can read human behavior so well that it interacts seamlessly with us, while controlling the system — like Hal 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey) or Auto (Wall-E). While, arguably, we may not be there yet in terms of our command of AI, we are not that far.

AI is definitely the direction tech development is taking, as evidenced by most recent trends, including the formation of a partnership by tech giants to push the frontier of AI. While we may not be nearing the Singularity, AI has taken leaps and bounds of improvement over the past few years alone.

AI refers to intelligence exhibited by machines or computers, particularly as it pertains to the use of these computers to analyze and understand human intelligence — or approximate intelligent behavior. It's a technology that has branched out to various applications, each one mimicking particular human intelligent behavior.


Perhaps the two most common behaviors are speech-recognition and image and pattern recognition. These applications run through deep learning. In this technique, the machine or computer is not actually taught how to recognize speech or images. Instead, it is given tons of algorithms, with loads of data for comparison. The computer makes sense of it all and "learns" how to recognize speech and images.

Today's AI

The potential of AI is huge, there no doubt about it. But just how much has this sci-fi technology become a part of our daily lives?

We can measure it using the applications above. Speech-recognition is, perhaps, the most obvious. There's an abundance of virtual assistants that rely on your voice to translate commands. They're in our smartphones and computers, waiting to offer witty remarks. One even has a doctorate in psychology.

IPsoft's Amelia. Credits: IPsoft

Other applications include the Google Neural Machine Translation system (GNMT) and DeepMind, which have greatly improved how machines grasp the way human being use language.

Then you have image recognition. Computers are now capable of collating and organizing your messy photo library and even suggest who to tag in a particular photo. Aside from its use in social apps, image recognition is also gaining popularity in medicine, with the development of more advanced imaging techniques. Of course, there's also its use in developing autonomous vehicles (such as food delivery drones), and other robotic applications.

The point is, there are a number of ways AI, in its current form, has actually made our lives easier. While our experience with sci-fi has produced an image of AI that is not entirely helpful (or might even turn against us), perhaps real science can help dispel any bias we have towards artificial intelligence.

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