Dumbing Down AI: A Guide to Understanding This Revolutionary Technology

There’s a lot of talk these days about Artificial Intelligence (AI), and it’s not just “techies” or computer geeks doing the talking.

AI is being used in a variety of ways, in many different settings, and it’s having an impact in many areas of our lives.

But do you really understand AI? What is it, how does it work, what are examples of it in action, and why does all that matter?

Let’s look at AI with this guide to understanding this revolutionary technology

What is AI?

Let’s start with defining AI. Quite simply, it’s the simulation of human intelligence by machines, in particular computers and computer systems.

This machine intelligence involves using different learning processes, such as problem solving, speech recognition, analysis, planning, linguistics and similar forms of cognitive learning.

In other words, computers can acquire information, learn and understand how to use the information, display reasoning based on the information, and make corrections based on the information.

Kind of like humans.

Different types of AI

There are different levels of AI, from weak or narrow to strong.

Weak AI can be as simple as a calculator – a machine that is carrying out a task (mathematics) normally done by the human brain. Another example is a spam filter.

An example of strong AI would be a robot that’s able to complete tasks using muscular learning, like knowing how to pick up objects, and be self-aware like a human. Strong AI, which is also known as artificial general intelligence, also means the computer is able to find solutions without the aid of humans.

A strong AI system would simulate a human brain and be impossible to distinguish from a human, and it has not yet been developed. In fact, it’s uncertain whether it ever will be developed.

How Does AI Work?

There are several components to understanding how AI works:

  • AI uses natural language processing, which translates human speech into a computer code, to allow the computer to understand language.
  • AI simplifies tasks which then allows machines to learn from past experience.
  • AI allows computers to learn in the following ways: by mapping their efforts and actions against their results; by pinpointing errors and then correcting them; by adjusting to new inputs; and, by analyzing scenarios to allow for the performance of human-like tasks.
  • AI uses deep learning, because computers can process huge amounts of data and find patterns.

At its heart, AI is about creating an automated system that mimics the intelligence of humans, and can make decisions or recommendations based on the computer’s learning.

Artificial Intelligence and Business Intelligence

In the business world, the terms AI and BI are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing.

AI, which involves computers learning, judging and solving problems, does have potential in the business world. But it’s not BI.

BI involves using technology to gather and analyze business data specifically, which then allows businesses to make decisions based on that information and analysis.

But here’s the kicker:

BI doesn’t involve making the actual decisions.

While BI makes it easier and faster for business to collect, analyze and report information, it’s still up to the business to determine what to do with that information.

The data may be of better quality thanks to the analysis of the intelligent computer system, which is able to process large amounts of information quickly. But it’s still basically reporting on what happened, any patterns found, and any possible predictions based on those patterns.

AI, on the other hand, actually models human thinking to enable decision-making.

An example of AI used in a business is a “chatbot,” which is a computer that’s able to answer questions posed by customers in an online chat format. Using AI, the chatbot “learns” by finding answers to questions, and can even support human customer service operators with that information.

Another way to think of the difference between the two is in the definition of “intelligence” in each scenario: in BI, it means the decision-making of the business that follows the computer analysis; in AI, the intelligence means the computer intelligence or learning.

Uses and Benefits of AI

If you think about AI as being as simple as a calculator, you’ll understand how AI has changed our world.

So let’s get to the fun stuff: looking at AI in action.

We’ve already mentioned a few applications, such as a calculator and a spam filter. There are computers that play checkers or chess.

Beyond that, here are multiple examples of AI in action:

Self-driving cars: This technology is already being used, despite the fact it seems like something from a science fiction novel. A self-driving car navigates without human involvement to a specific destination. The benefits for people who are unable to drive are tremendous, like the elderly or infirm. But benefits can go beyond that – think about military transportation, rescue operations, and emergency response. An example is an automated vehicle that delivers essential goods in a crisis.

Education: A simple example of AI is in language translation programs, but it can also be used for administrative tasks like grading. Machines can already score multiple-choice exams, and are close to assessing written answers as well. AI can also be used for admission or enrolment tasks. And, research is being done on using AI to customize learning processes for individual students, potentially allowing for individualized learning, feedback and testing.

Predicting Trends for Municipal Leaders: AI can study data and predict trends such as where public transport is used the most, or identify risks like high-collision zones. As a result, it can aid in city planning, traffic control and more.

Siri, Alexa and other personal assistants: By now, we’re all familiar with the personal assistants that answer questions, turn lights on and off, play music, and read weather forecasts. These have gone beyond novelty to being a key part of our everyday lives. In fact, the algorithms that drive search engines are changing as more and more people “talk” to their personal assistants when doing an online search: “Siri, what is Artificial Intelligence?”

Healthcare: AI can help with diagnosis based on its ability to analyze data and predict patterns. Even more remarkable is the story of the Swiss and Italian scientists who were able to return feeling to an amputee. By implanting electrodes into nerves in the arm of an amputee, and then wiring the electrodes into a machine that had a “bionic” fingertip, amputee Dennis Aabo Sørensen is able to sense rough and smooth textures. The fingertip “learned” the differences between the surfaces, and created a signal that mimicked the nervous system to deliver the message to Sorensen.

Customer service: As mentioned previously, AI systems such as a chatbot can handle a majority of customer service needs. AI is also prevalent in automated factory systems, taking over work previously done by humans. This can be a boon when jobs are particularly dangerous, or for a business owner who wants to cut costs, but isn’t necessarily beneficial for workers.

Final Thoughts

AI can be a benefit in many areas, but there are those who caution about the ethics of AI. Besides taking over work previously done by humans, which some would say is not a positive change, there are other questions about AI.

For instance, since AI systems learn based on data, and since humans are the ones who input the data that “trains” the AI systems, there is potential for bias or even misuse. That could mean a system that’s biased against a specific group, to something as dangerous as weapons technology.

All in all, the potential to use AI to improve the lives of humans is great. Continued research and testing will only expand the uses for AI and, used properly, it can truly enhance our lives now and in the future.