Artificial Intelligence (AI) is taking the world by storm. It is transforming everything from employment, economy and communication, to warfare and healthcare. Smart homes, smart healthcare, autonomous cars and drones are seeing the light of the day and many more autonomous systems are on the anvil. The proponents of AI believe that it will be the panacea for complex social challenges. But the naysayers are sounding the alarm bell, calling AI an existential threat for humankind. The tech titans of the world are also divided on this score. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is optimistic about AI, while Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has questioned its benefits and the celebrated physicist late Stephen Hawking has warned that AI could spell death-knell of the human race.
Hot AI Technologies
Artificial Intelligence encompasses a diverse range of technologies.
The AI-optimized hardware, including specialized speedy processors and graphics processing units, are being deployed in tandem with traditional CPUs to boost machine learning. Google’s computer AlphaGo, which beat the Go world champion, Lee Sedol was powered by its own tensor processing units. Intel has already announced plans to roll out non-GPU chips to train machine learning models 100 times faster than existing GPUs.
The explosion of Big Data is too much for human beings to handle. AI can assimilate the humungous data and provide necessary insights faster than any human. Thanks to advanced machine learning, computers can recognize images, understand spoken sentences and translate the written language.
Deep learning, which is a sub-field in machine learning, mimics the activity of neurons in the brain. Deep learning platforms consisting of artificial neural networks are being used in pattern recognition and classification applications.
Biometrics is the authentication of an individual with the help of unique identifiers such as fingerprints, retina and iris patterns, and DNA. The AI subtype i.e. machine learning is already being used for face detection and going ahead, AI will use a software-based approach to determine the live-ness of users.
AI has made it possible for human speech to be transcribed into a computer-friendly format. This has wide applications in interactive voice response systems and mobile devices.
Virtual Agents (Chatbots)
Intelligent bots services, ranging from simple chatbots to advanced systems that can network with humans are being used in customer service situations to minimize human errors and optimize work output.
Robotic Process Automation
Software scripts are automating human actions in areas where it is too expensive and inefficient for humans to execute tasks. Just like humans, they communicate with other systems to deliver profitability and accuracy across organizations.
Pros and Cons
In the field of medicine, Stephen Hawking is probably the most well-known user of AI technology. Unable to speak since 1985, Hawking used a AI-powered computer system operated by one muscle in his right cheek to talk and write, and thereby interact with the world.
In experimental studies, AI has analyzed medical sensors and other health data to predict an individual’s pre-disposition to a severe blood infection. In another instance, AI has powered a robotic surgery system for specific surgical procedures. It is just a matter of time before these are replicated in live situations.
AI constitutes the cornerstone of the digital revolution as even the most basic smartphones of today make use of AI. Whether one realizes it or not, even Siri, Alexa and GPS, and face detection are applications of AI.
AI-powered drones and robots can replace humans in hazardous areas such as mining and defence, thus eliminating human injuries and fatalities. AI can also make a huge difference in other industries due to their precision and error-free nature.
On the other hand, a major concern surrounding AI is a prospective loss of employment as machines and robots become sophisticated and adept at performing labour-intensive tasks. This fear seems overblown. As was the case with Industrial Revolution, AI will redefine the job market by rendering some jobs extinct and creating new opportunities.
Future of AI
Google began testing self-driving cars way back in 2012. Self-driving cars are already making an entry into the market on a small scale, albeit accompanied with a driver for safety purposes. It will take some time before the technology reaches maturation.
There will come a time when we will augment ourselves with computers, enhancing our natural abilities and overcoming biological limitations. For example, the brain will communicate with a robotic limb to give greater control to a person with amputated limbs.
It might seem like a tall order at first to expect AI to solve climate change. But given that machines have more access to data than one person ever could, AI could one day use big data tools to identify trends and draw up solutions to this world menace.
Our impulsive response is to over-react to things that are incomprehensible and this is further aggravated by a flood of doomsday Hollywood movies. In the 1980s, when the discovery of DNA restriction enzymes heralded genetic engineering, skeptics warned of killer engineered viruses and mutated life forms. On the contrary, we have been blessed with miracle drugs and rise in food production.
It is important to bear in mind the distinction between strong AI and narrow/weak AI. Strong AI is a thinking machine closer to human thought, while narrow AI is akin to a Google search engine. Hawking was not against AI per se as he himself used an AI-powered computer to conquer his physical limitations. His criticism of AI was rather directed against strong AI, in which thinking machines modify themselves to independently build more capable systems that could endanger human beings and society.
To sum up, in the words of Stephen Hawking, it still remains a question whether AI will be our greatest benefit or our biggest downfall. AI is likely to be either the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity, so there’s huge value in getting it right.
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