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Artificial Intelligence, Beyond The Movies

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is our attempt to make computers think or process information similar to the way we do. Humans have been pioneering in the field for hundreds of years beginning with the work of classical philosophers in the 14th century onward.

Early explorers in the field conducted experiments and projects unlikely to hold any commercial value whatsoever but nevertheless an important part of investigating and understanding human thought processes.

The wider populace was first introduced to the concept of a device remotely like our modern day computer through the wildly popular novel Gulliver’s Travels, published in 1726. Author Jonathan Swift takes his fictional traveller Gulliver to the island of Laputa, where there is a machine named “The Engine”. This machine arranges and rearranges letters and words repeatedly too reduce labour and generate ideas thus attempting to make complex thought on the arts and sciences available to even the unlearned. This early reference is strikingly similar to the role we are even now ascribing to AI capabilities.

Artificial Intelligence as We Know It

The ‘birth’ of AI towards purposeful application came about in 1956 at Dartmouth College. It was in this year that it was officially named ‘A.I.’. This new wide-reaching acknowledgement brought publicity, new minds, and much needed research funding.

Dedicated researchers and students made leaps of progress with computing machines that could do math problems, speak in English, and win games of checkers.

Over the next 30 years work and advancements continued. However, the awe-inspiring predicted developments did not happen as quickly as originally forecasted and the field tipped out of view. It slipped into increased obscurity and was generally thought of as an area best left to far-fetched geeks, the silver screen, and those with wild imaginations, but certainly not applicable to everyday life.

Artificial Intelligence comes to Life

The public imagination was recaptured by Artificial Intelligence in a big way after the computer “Deep Blue” stunned the world by prevailing against the reigning world champion chess player in 1997. This was quickly followed by the introduction of the first ‘pet’ robot known as a Furby created in 1998. Next, in the year 2000, Honda created the first human-like robot, ASIMO, that could walk and perform simple tasks. This accelerated to Google’s first driverless car to pass a United States driving test in 2009 and a computer named Watson winning the game show Jeopardy in 2011.

One particularly curious showings of human-like Artificial Intelligence happened when researchers exposed a large-scale neural network to over 10 million randomized images gleaned from YouTube to see what, if anything, the neurons might learn. To their utter amusement researchers reported in 2012 that one of their artificial neurons discovered and learned to respond strongly to pictures of cats, completely by itself!

Examples are becoming ever more frequent and each headline grabbing event makes people rethink the possibilities, potential and the outer limits of what machines might be capable of.

The Future is Now

The definition and reach of AI has expanded to encompass everything from the Quantum Computing targets now on the horizon to the rise of Smart Offices and even includes handy household devices such as Amazon’s Echo bot. The Echo has an ability to recognize and adapt to accents and voices of household users, report on weather, traffic and more, turn lights on and off, keep track of calendars and lists, stream audio and make online purchases.

Advancements in AI have some individuals greatly concerned and have raised complex and difficult questions. People in all walks of life are now reconsidering how we define intelligence, the role of technology in everyday life, and the direction and capabilities of both in the future.

AI and Business

Modern technology industry heavyweights such as Elon Musk have been vocal about investing millions into AI research. This has prompted the field of AI to stride forward into the minds of businesses and consumers alike. There is no doubt that Big Data, The Internet of Things, and commerce as we know it will be transformed by emerging AI technologies.