Artificial Intelligence: Only Time Will Tell

In the last 18 years, there has been a 14x increase in the number of artificial intelligence (AI) startups, a 6x increase in the amount of Venture Capitalist investments in AI startups, and jobs requiring AI skills have grown 4.5x since 2013. Who runs the world? It’s lookin’ like robots to me. Artificial intelligence is no longer a Spielberg movie phenomenon, it is a technology that exists and is thriving.

While robots probably aren’t going to take over the world (yet), the premise behind artificial intelligence (AI) is to build machines that are capable of human thinking. We all have our imaginations to blame for misconceptions around what artificial intelligence is so before we dive into the guts of this buzzword, let’s start with the basic definitions.

There are two types of AI: applied and generalized.

Applied AI is used to simulate human thought to carry out one specific task. This type of AI is where our friends Siri and Alexa live.  They are programmed to carry out tasks but they are unable to think beyond what they are taught. Applied AI technology is taking daily life to the next level by using data to create intentional and detailed experiences.  For example, the Nest isn’t just cooling and heating your house, it is constantly learning from your preferred temperature patterns to predict your desired home climate. Boxever is a company that relies on machine learning to create better travel experiences for customers.  It uses AI to deliver micro-moments to travelers so that they can expound on opportunities while on vacation. Their users walk away feeling like their vacation catered to their every need and desire. Autonomous and self-driving cars are also considered to be Applied AI. Tesla is the leader here and their use of AI is what makes them king.  The car is continuously bettering itself using over-the-air updates. In layman’s terms, this type of AI has the human race wrapped around its finger and is definitely helping us work smarter not harder.

Generalized AI is the heartbeat behind HBO’s West World and the reason Stephen Hawking warns us that AI could be the end of mankind. Generalized AI is meant to be an ever growing system that doesn’t necessarily need to be taught new tasks but grows with experience AKA a full human replica. The scary part is while a human’s growth evolves over time, there is no telling how quickly a robot could evolve based on AI. Hawkings fears that this type of development could match or supersede the human race, “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate”.

Not good.

While a take over is (hopefully) not in our immediate future, don’t sell yourself short of knowing what is currently being developed, like Boston Dynamics’ robotic dog named Spot or humanoid, Atlas.  Something a bit more applicable, and less creepy, would be Google’s smart reply, a feature designed to curate automatic responses for your emails. In 2016, 10% of mobile Inbox users’ responses were sent through smart reply. Talk about a time save!

Optimistically, generalized AI will be used to enhance humanity, not hurt or as warned by Hawkings, kill off. For example, Robo-Readers are robots designed to improve individual education and one day hope to use generalized AI to identify students at risk so that extra resources are allocated to those students, therefore, decreasing dropout rates. The opportunities here are truly endless and hopefully won’t end in an epic battle with Atlas.

Having mixed feelings? You aren’t the only one. There are quite a few debates surrounding this topic and many of the discussions circulate around very strong opinions; I’m looking at you, Zuckerberg.  However, one thing acknowledged across the board is that in the end, the age-old difference in AI and human intelligence is a pulse.  While a robot may be able to learn and grow based off of experience, that growth will never be influenced by emotion, therefore, it will never fully be able to replace a human.

Hopefully, that means we win.

In the end, human beings are behind the creation of AI and ultimately control its direction and autonomy. The hands and users behind the intelligence will determine if we change the world or destroy humanity.  If we live in fear and don’t use AI to solve real problems, great opportunities to better this world may be missed. If we are reckless, we may just be creating the very thing that will replace us. Only time will tell.