If you are looking for an answer to the question What is Artificial Intelligence? and you only have a minute, then here's the definition the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence offers on its home page: "the scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behavior and their embodiment in machines."
However, if you are fortunate enough to have more than a minute, then please get ready to embark upon an exciting journey exploring AI (but beware, it could last a lifetime) …
Hardly a day goes by that we don't cover virtual assistants. If it's not news about Siri, there's some new development with Alexa, or Cortana or Google Assistant. For one week, we asked five Engadget reporters to live with one of the major assistants: Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, the Google Assistant, Microsoft's Cortana and Samsung's Bixby. This week Engadget is examining each of the five major virtual assistants, taking stock of how far they've come and how far they still have to go.
Summary: Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is the long sought after'brain' that brings together all the branches of AI into a general purpose platform that can perform with human level intelligence in a broad variety of tasks. For starters, the incremental gains in partial AI represented by deep learning and robotics have bigger money and bigger companies behind them and more close-in applications. However, it's unlikely we could find a single human able to master every single economically important job so perhaps we can declare victory when the AGI can master one or more jobs if not all. Inductive reasoning makes broad generalizations from specific observations.
With smartphone features like Apple's Siri and Google Assistant gaining popularity, it's safe to assume that artificial intelligence (AI) is a technology trend that isn't going away any time soon. But can it help your small business? There are plenty of ways AI can help streamline your operations. Consider the ways you are already using AI in your everyday life. Siri, Apple's virtual assistant, has been in the mainstream for a while, and many major tech companies have created their own versions.
For anyone who's ever seen an early episode of Star Trek, recall Captain Kirk speaking to the "computer," even using that keyword to summon the computing power of the Starship Enterprise to answer a complex question requiring an expeditious answer. Ever since Gene Roddenberry introduced his sci-fi interpretation of the future, we've been chasing that dream, for as early as 1952, Bell Labs scientists introduced "Audrey," a system that recognized spoken numeric digits. Fast-forward from the days of Star Trek and Audrey, and researchers have turned the science fiction of a seamless voice interface into reality. Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana and Google's voice assistant are all manifestations of decades worth of research. However, these new systems aren't just voice recognition, but rather the intersection of a variety of powerful computing capabilities, including speech recognition, artificial intelligence (AI), knowledge base integration (the Internet), super-computing, ubiquitous connectivity and more.
It sounds like a line from science-fiction: Two of the world's most famous technologists are butting heads over artificial intelligence. Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have very different ideas on what qualifies as "AI," according to a recent Vanity Fair article detailing whether popular male tech figures believe in a forthcoming AI apocalypse. Their debate underlies a bigger one facing the industry: nobody can agree on what the term means. There are generally two schools of thought when talking about whether software today (read: not an imaginary future killer robot) is a form of artificial intelligence: literalists and generalists. "I wouldn't call it AI to have your household functions automated," Musk told Vanity Fair.
My husband and I have a running joke where we have our Amazon Echo "compete" with our iPhones to see who does a better (i.e., more human-like) job of interacting with us. While there's no clear winner, Siri seems to have the edge for casual conversation, but Alexa can sing. I've noticed something else, too. We don't usually thank Siri or Alexa the way we would a clerk at a supermarket or an employee at an information kiosk, even though they're providing us with identical services. And why would we? Siri and Alexa aren't people; they're anthropomorphized computer programs.
It's been a busy summer in the artificial intelligence (A.I.) space, but the most interesting A.I. opportunities may not come from the biggest names. You may have heard about Tesla's self-driving cars that made headlines twice, for vastly different reasons -- a fatal crash in Florida in which the driver was using the Autopilot software, and claims by a Missouri man that the feature drove him 20 miles to a hospital after he suffered a heart attack, saving his life. Or you might have heard of Apple spending $200 million to acquire machine learning and A.I. startup Turi. A smart drone defeated an experienced Air Force pilot in flight simulation tests. IBM's Watson diagnosed a 60-year-old woman's rare form of leukemia within 10 minutes, after doctors had been stumped for months.
Facebook's Perfect, Impossible Chatbot Facebook is quietly trying to develop the most useful virtual assistant ever, in a project that illustrates the current limitations of artificial intelligence. Amazon's Alexa can summon an Uber and satisfy a four-year-old's demand for fart noises. Siri can control your Internet-connected thermostat. Each serve millions of users each day. But a lucky group of around 10,000 people, mostly in California, know that Facebook's assistant, named M, is the smartest of the bunch.
It's fun to complain that powerful Artificial General Intelligence (Hal-AI), the kind destined to enslave us, hasn't yet cured cancer. But, focusing too much on what Hal-AI can't yet do makes it easy to overlook the accomplishments of what Practical Artificial Intelligence (Siri-AI) can. For example, consider a recent article by Dr. Dave Levin, former CMIO for the Cleveland Clinic. He claims that AI currently offers little of value to healthcare, "Chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension… recognizing and treating acute conditions like sepsis, heart attacks and strokes… better prenatal care, prevention and wellness. This is where the vast burden of illness, suffering and costs lie... AI likely has little to offer here of immediate value and can divert resources and attention from these harder (and frankly less sexy) needs."
It's time I face the truth: I think Alexa may be making my wife nervous. You see, when I'm not traveling, I work from home, and lately I have been researching the capabilities of Amazon's virtual assistant from my home office. As suspected, my wife has indeed overhead some of these conversations, and as I type them here I can see how they might make her nervous. While she has yet to admit she is, in fact, jealous of Alexa, last night she did ask me just exactly what it is that Alexa and I could possibly be talking about all day long. Maybe my wife had good reason to question us.