What Is AI?

Sometimes it can feel like machines and computers have taken over every aspect of our day; we rely on digital personalities to guide us to new places, and we can even have voice-operated assistants right in our homes with smart devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home. The logistics behind these devices has gotten exponentially better only in the last few years, thanks to advancements in the field of Artificial Intelligence, or AI.


At first glance, artificial intelligence can sound creepy like something out of the Twilight Zone. A lot of sci-fi and dystopian-themed media centers around “AI Gone Bad” trope, in which anything that uses AI in the story has a very good chance in turning against humanity with evil intentions. We may joke about the eventual robot uprising, but the field of AI has a long way to go before actual digital sentience.


Artificial Intelligence as an academic field was developed in the mid 1950s. Many of those who study and work in the field have one goal: pass the Turing Test. Alan Turing was a mathematician, but is well known in AI circles for the experiment he developed to test a computer’s sentience. He argued that if a machine could imitate a human’s behaviors well enough to trick an interrogator, that ability would imply sentience. There have been many arguments about the validity of this test, but his is historically the best known method and there are several competitions around the globe all about whose AI software comes closest to passing.


Today there are many applications for artificial intelligence. Apple’s Siri is probably the best known example. Siri is a pseudo-intelligent digital assistant that comes with Apple devices like your iPhone or Apple Watch. Another example that’s quickly growing in popularity is predictive driving capabilities in cars. Most modern cars have sensors which take in the area around them as an image, and use AI to identify things like brake lights on the car in front of you, or when your car is driving a little too close to the painted lines on either side of your lane.


The most important thing to note is that we are a very long ways away, if at all, reaching the point of shows like Westworld or Ex machina. Artificial intelligence has no inherent dangers, and requires no extra caution beyond what you normally use when using the internet.


By Melanie Cusick

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