16 Feb 2017

AI in the modern world

The robots are coming… if you believe everything you read in the news. According to some, AI technology will transform our healthcare system, break into the banking industry, and take over our jobs. But even if that’s right, is it really as scary as it seems? You may not know it, but Artificial Intelligence is already a massive part of our everyday lives – and has been for thirty-plus years.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be running a series of blogs, looking at the role of Artificial Intelligence in our modern world. We’ll cover a variety of different topics, including how AI fits into heathcare, education, transport, and more. We’ll start by exploring what AI actually is, and how it’s already improving our lives without us even realising.



Introducing AI

The human race is driven by making life that little bit easier for ourselves, and AI has found a place at the heart of this. Since the term was first coined by John McCarthy in 1956, AI has evolved at an impressive rate, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Technology moves fast – this is true across the board, and not just in the area of AI – but with this comes a level of confusion, and is the case with AI, a sense of fear. But before we throw up our arms and declare that computers are taking over, it makes sense to define what AI really is.

AI is often viewed as something from the future, or from a twilight zone that we don’t understand. Or even as a very recent innovation or breakthrough. What is surprising for many is that it is already here, and has been around for a while.

Most AI has been designed to perform just one specific function, and would be lost if you asked it to do anything outside of its scope. It performs its set tasks as well as, or even better than, a human, but it can’t do any more than that (yet!).

Its objective is more about replicating the human thought process to reach a conclusion that little bit faster, and its evolution has taken time.


Don’t panic!

IBM’s Watson supercomputer has been making headlines since 2011, when it won US game show Jeopardy. Since then, it’s become increasingly smart, as with all AI, it gets smarter as more people use it.

At the moment, almost all AI is ‘narrow AI’: it can perform just one task, but it can do it really well. However, the most exciting developments in AI are ‘artificial general intelligence’. This is AI that can perform any intellectual task that can be performed by a human. As you might expect, this is very difficult to achieve, and we’re not there yet. In fact, we might not ever be.

Simply put, AI is using human reasoning as a guide, but is not trying to perfect the human brain. It will become better, faster, more aware, as well as continually enhance it’s knowledge, but will not be driven by the quest of perfection.


What’s in a name?

TV shows like Humans and WestWorld may make artifical general intelligence seem like the norm, but that’s really not the case.

Other forms of AI have already crept into our everyday lives – we just don’t recognise it as Artificial Intelligence anymore. Even our friend John McCarthy (inventor of the term AI) complains: “As soon as it works, no one calls it AI anymore”.

You may not know it, but the following bits of tech all use AI to work:-

– Siri – As well as recognising voice to carry out internet searches for the user, Siri ‘learns’ the way that a particular uses language, and will tailor its results based on previous searches and preferences.

– Netflix – How do you think Netflix recommends TV shows you’ll like? Through AI of course!

– ABS – Anti-lock braking systems use a type of AI to determine if one of the wheels is locking when braking.

– SatNav – As well as using GPS systems to work out where you are, SatNavs use AI to put you on the quickest route to your destination.


It’s the present and the future

In our coming blog series, we’ll show just how far AI is reaching. So far, it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

The media has seen this, and reports of robots taking our jobs over the next couple of decades are filling news reports, but consulting firm, McKinsey & Company paints a different picture.

The report “Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy”, predicts that by 2025 AI-based technologies (including robotics, IoT, and automated knowledge-based tech) would be worth around $10 trillion per year. Impressively, that is equivalent to 110-140 million jobs.

AI is already part of how we work, live, and play (whether we realise it or not), and let’s be honest, we all want a bat-computer like Batman or a Jarvis in our lives like Iron Man! It’s time to embrace AI and let it help.

Keep your eyes peeled for more posts on how AI is shaping our modern world.