The Facts, Fiction, and Future of Artificial Intelligence

The Facts, Fiction, and Future of Artificial Intelligence

January 13

While artificial intelligence isn’t exactly new, it has become a very hot topic as of late. In fact, quite a few startups have recently raised millions in investment dollars to fund everything from voice-activated discovery to general purpose AI projects. These companies are excited about a technology that looks poised to finally start living up to its promise and potential. But what’s behind that potential and what the heck is this AI thing about anyway?

The story of modern AI dates back to 1956, when revered computer scientist John McCarthy came up with the name “Artificial Intelligence”, which then became the study of using computer systems to perform tasks that require human intelligence. The gaming realm is probably where you’ll find its most common applications. Game developers use it to give non-playable characters limited awareness and other realistic characteristics in simulated environments. A perfect example is the poorly animated crowd cheering you on as you drive down the field in a game of Madden.

Ironically, the artificial intelligence you see in video games isn’t the same AI John McCarthy and others envisioned for this exciting concept.

Infinite Possibilities and Limitations

If you’re like most of us, you probably got your first taste of artificial intelligence from Hollywood. Since the early days of the genre, science fiction has catered to our fascination of mechanical masterminds by scripting passionate tales around friendly robots, subservient androids, and free-willed computer systems bent on world domination. From one flick to the next, these fictional machines portray both the emotion, and lack of emotion associated with human beings.

Movie critics are hailing Transcendence as one of the best Hollywood depictions of AI. The 2014 film tells the story of a Will Caster, a dedicated artificial intelligence researcher whose life’s mission is to develop a sentient system that integrates all knowledge known to man in a single machine. Not to be too much of a spoiler, but Caster eventually becomes the focal point of his own experiment as an artificial being with the consciousness of mankind and limitless wisdom is unleashed on the world.

Though often compelling from an entertainment standpoint, Hollywood feeds the myths and misconceptions that surround artificial intelligence. Sounds silly, but there are people who truly buy into the painted picture of self-aware networks like the Terminator franchise’s Skynet organizing a robotic assault on the human race. Never say never, but you may agree that anything of the sort is  highly unlikely when realizing what AI isn’t.

Human experienced: In order to learn a new language with fluid efficiency, you have to spend time conversing with others who are familiar with the slang, culture, social context of the terminology, and other things that can’t all be learned from a piece of dictation software. A machine faces even greater challenges in this scenario due to its lack of cultural experiences, hardships, and everyday human interactions.

An independent operator: The thought of robots rebelling against mankind makes for an intriguing plot, but due to the reliance on human assistance, it may never be possible. Even the most skilled of smart machines still depend on man to write their automation capabilities, perform repairs, and handle general maintenance. And let’s not forget those crucial OS updates. Without us, the most advanced AI machines would be non-functional sooner or later.

Social savvy: Everyday, computers talk to one another to connect our systems to the Internet and power the network operations we thrive on. Like all aspects of technology, machine-to-machine interactions can and will evolve, but there is a limit to their communication capabilities. The inability to proactively socialize means a super intelligent computer can’t coordinate sadistic schemes from scratch with like systems, or even sway disloyal people into betraying their own kind – though that might not take much convincing.

The Future of AI in the Real World

Cinema cheese aside, the potential of artificial intelligence fits within the realm of reality and is currently playing out as we speak. SmartCloud is one of the startups I mentioned earlier that is banking on this technology to drive its own business model. The Bedford, Massachusetts firm uses AI software to help companies improve their real-time decision-making capabilities via predictive analytics. Companies you may be more familiar with, namely search giant Google, is leveraging it to make the world smarter, more productive, and efficient through the aid of machines with brain-like processors.

Some people are excited about AI’s potential to make life even easier. Others fear the threat of machines putting more humans out of work, out-thinking us in the battle of wits, and simply falling into the wrong hands.

Where do you stand on the matter?

Photo Credit: A Health Blog via Flickr