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) …
Robotic surgeons are on the march. Across the NHS they are taking over thousands of operations from their human counterparts for prostate cancer or kidney and bladder surgery. Science fiction has become science fact. The machines, with their pinpoint-accurate computer-controlled arms, are being introduced in the belief that they can perform minute surgical tasks such as cutting and stitching far more effectively than quiver-fingered humans, and with less risk of bleeding from excessive incisions or poor suturing. There are now around 60 such robots, of a type called'da Vinci', in NHS hospitals.
Your next doctor could very well be a bot. And bots, or automated programs, are likely to play a key role in finding cures for some of the most difficult-to-treat diseases and conditions. Artificial intelligence is rapidly moving into health care, led by some of the biggest technology companies and emerging startups using it to diagnose and respond to a raft of conditions. While technology has always played a role in medical care, a wave of investment from Silicon Valley and a flood of data from connected devices appear to be spurring innovation. "I think a tipping point was when Apple released its Research Kit," said Forrester Research analyst Kate McCarthy, referring to a program letting Apple users enable data from their daily activities to be used in medical studies.
The year 2017 saw artificial intelligence bringing the stuff of science fiction closer to reality by not only gaining foothold in all spheres of life, but also getting the better of humans in many fields. From acquiring citizenship to outsmarting humans at complex games, from composing music to writing novels, from assisting doctors to helping fight judicial cases, artificial intelligence (AI) made its presence felt throughout the year. Artificial intelligence is a term used to describe systems or machines that mimic the cognitive functions of human minds, such as learning and problem solving. Although by no means a new concept, the technology made headlines throughout the year. Perhaps, among the most talked about AI machines this year was Sophia, a humanoid robot designed by a company in Hong Kong, that was granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia - a country where women were not allowed to drive until recently.
The past year has been a momentous one for science and technology. From the detection of gravitational waves (predicted almost a century ago by Einstein) to the rise of virtual currencies like Bitcoin to the creation of genetically modified human embryos, 2017 was marked by all sorts of remarkable discoveries and innovations. No one knows for sure. But as we did for 2017, we asked top scientists and thought leaders in innovation what they expect to see in the new year. Here, lightly edited, are their predictions.
It won't be long before the computers put us all out of jobs. For the medical field, it looks like some of us will be out of a job before others. An exciting study from the Netherlands utilized computerized analysis of pathologic slides to look for metastatic breast cancer in lymph nodes in specimens from women with known breast cancer. Finding metastatic cancer in a lymph node is an important indicator for recurrence of disease if untreated, a prognostic sign, and a reason to undergo more extensive treatment. Obviously, doing whatever we can to accurately and thoroughly assess such tissue is extremely important.
Last year, a strange self-driving car was released onto the quiet roads of Monmouth County, New Jersey. The experimental vehicle, developed by researchers at the chip maker Nvidia, didn't look different from other autonomous cars, but it was unlike anything demonstrated by Google, Tesla, or General Motors, and it showed the rising power of artificial intelligence. The car didn't follow a single instruction provided by an engineer or programmer. Instead, it relied entirely on an algorithm that had taught itself to drive by watching a human do it. Getting a car to drive this way was an impressive feat.
We are confronted with reports and research on an increasing number of impressively accurate IT tools that interpret images or ECG data, that advise on when to consult a doctor or that suggest proper therapies. The year of 2018 will be when these tools start hitting real-world care on a broader scale. The FDA has just certified the first Apple Watch accessory as a medical device: an ECG-meter that replaces the normal Apple watch wristband and that can be used in combination with activity tracking in a machine-learning environment to detect atrial fibrillation. Decision support tools with or without machine learning are coming of age, and this will force regulators to make up their minds on how to address them properly. The recent European Medical Device Regulation will make it tougher for healthcare IT tools that need medicinal product certification to make ends meet.
At the World Government Summit in Dubai in February, Tesla and SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk said that people would need to become cyborgs to be relevant in an artificial intelligence age. He said that a "merger of biological intelligence and machine intelligence" would be necessary to ensure we stay economically valuable. Soon afterwards, the serial entrepreneur created Neuralink, with the intention of connecting computers directly to human brains. He wants to do this using "neural lace" technology – implanting tiny electrodes into the brain for direct computing capabilities. Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) aren't a new idea.
Watershed technologies like AlphaGo make it easy to forget that artificial intelligence (AI) isn't just a futuristic dream. It's already here -- and we interact with it every day. Sensing traffic lights, fraud detection, mobile bank deposits, and, of course, internet search -- each of these technologies involves AI of some kind. As we have grown used to AI in these instances, it has become part of the scenery -- we see it, but we no longer notice it. Expect that trend to continue: As AI grows increasingly ubiquitous, it'll become increasingly invisible.
The year is coming to an end. I did not write nearly as much as I had planned to. But I'm hoping to change that next year, with more tutorials around Reinforcement Learning, Evolution, and Bayesian Methods coming to WildML! And what better way to start than with a summary of all the amazing things that happened in 2017? Looking back through my Twitter history and the WildML newsletter, the following topics repeatedly came up.