What is artificial intelligence (AI)?

AI is the concept of machines or systems performing tasks, making decisions, and learning in a manner that would typically require the human mind's abilities.


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When you think of the term artificial intelligence (AI), you might remember movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Terminator, where machines could equal or even surpass human intelligence. We’re not quite there yet, and some would say that’s a good thing. Still, the technology is enhancing our lives every day, even at its current stage.

What exactly is artificial intelligence?

So, what exactly is artificial intelligence, and how is AI being used today? Well, AI is the concept of machines or systems performing tasks, making decisions, and learning in a manner that would typically require the human mind’s abilities. Industries like health care, security, retail, management, agriculture, manufacturing, and more benefit from AI with the following applications:

  • Automation: AI optimizes large-scale and small-scale repetitive tasks efficiently without tiring.
  • Analysis: It analyzes and learns from big data to offer a wealth of invaluable information.
  • Mimicking: AI mimics human intelligence by utilizing machine learning (ML) to offer many personal services, like chatbots.
  • Precision: It reduces the margin for error by using deep neural networks.
  • Prediction: AI-powered analytics learn from our patterns to cast predictions and forecast trends.

Examples of AI applications

  • Cybersecurity software: As new malware threats regularly emerge, conventional antivirus tools that used only signature-based technology would struggle to stop them. Polymorphic malware that changes its identifiable features can be even more challenging to block. Fortunately, advanced cybersecurity software that uses AI and ML to recognize patterns in potential malware are remediating these emerging threats.
  • Streaming services: Have you ever wondered how video streaming services accurately suggest TV shows and films for your viewing pleasure? They use AI and ML to crunch metadata, keywords, patterns, and more to curate a list of content to offer.  
  • Maps: Your map on your mobile phone saves you precious minutes on your daily commute by analyzing traffic patterns, weather, your habits with AI.
  • Virtual Assistants: Google Assistant, Cortana, Alexa, and other virtual assistants utilize AI and ML to make your daily life easier with more precise suggestions.

Who is the father of artificial intelligence?

Many academics consider John McCarthy to be the father of AI. He was a computer and cognitive scientist who presented a definition of AI at Dartmouth College in 1956. Besides coining the term, McCarthy also explored the technology hitting numerous milestones and earning many honors and accolades.  

What are the 4 types of AI?

While AI’s impact is reverberating across many industries and technologies, researchers say that we’re just beginning to unlock its potential. As unthinkable as it may seem, we may live amongst machines as intelligent as people one day. AI technology has the potential to do problem solving on a very large scale. On a scale of functionality, there are four types of AI:

Reactive machines

The oldest and most basic type of AI system is reactive machines. This purely reactive AI responds to situations but doesn’t use a memory base. Without memory-based functions, this type of AI can’t store, analyze, and learn from experiences to develop even better responses. An example of this AI is IBM’s purpose-built chess-playing supercomputer, Deep Blue. In 1997, Deep Blue beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov by exploring 200 million possible chess positions per second, but it didn’t use in-depth ML to strategize.

Limited memory

We’re currently at this second type of AI, which can react and learn. Limited memory AI can analyze all data types, such as experience and training, to learn for better outcomes. The best example of this AI is a self-driving car that uses information from training and databases to drive safely and efficiently.

Theory of mind

Theory of mind AI is still at the research, development, and conceptual stage. The idea behind this third type of AI is that machines and systems will gain some form of emotional intelligence to begin understanding what makes human beings tick. A basic example of this is an AI-powered car comprehending a pedestrian’s emotional state to exercise more caution, when necessary, at a traffic signal. A more advanced example would be a robot bartender offering services that match a patron’s feelings.

Self-aware AI

The road from the theory of mind AI will eventually take us to self-aware AI. Yes, this fourth type of AI is the level of AI we see in science fiction films. While some experts say we’re centuries away from this type of synthetic intelligence, others say that we may witness it in just a decade or two. Self-aware AI not only has emotional intelligence, but it also has needs of its own. A theoretical use for self-aware AI is space exploration —self-aware AI machines that can withstand the harshness of long-term space travel could theoretically help us unlock the secrets of space.

Is AI dangerous?

Before even asking “What is AI?” people often ask questions like “Is AI safe?” or “Is AI a real threat?” thanks to books and movies that paint a dark future where machines have destroyed or enslaved humankind. It doesn’t help that Tesla and Space X head Elon Musk predicts that AI is more threatening than nuclear warheads with calls for a regulatory body. Others, like scientists at Oxford and UC Berkeley, and one of the greatest scientific minds of all time, the late Stephen Hawking, seem to share these fears. 

The concern is that when self-aware AI develops thoughts like self-preservation, it may see humanity as a threat or competition for resources. With so many aspects of our lives, from our traffic lights to our nuclear weapons connected to computers, malicious AI could initiate a dystopian future. Especially if, as Musk puts it, the intelligence ratio between AI and humans is similar to that between a person and a cat.