Some predict that intelligent machines and humanoid robots will be our daily companions in the near future. Do you believe that artificial intelligence will grow to be an important part of our lives? Guess what? Some types of intelligent machines are already here!
Do you ever think about a future where a machine will have a conversation with you or help you make decisions? Do you dream of a not-too-distant future when you have a robot that will do your chores for you? Do you believe that self-driving vehicles will take over most roads before you are old enough to get your driver license? Whether you are hopeful or fearful about a future run by robots, the truth is, that future is already here!
Artificial Intelligence, or A.I., is making human interaction with technology more and more common. Artificial Intelligence is a phrase that computer science pioneer John McCarthy came up with in 1955. A.I. refers to the science and engineering of making intelligent machines. In 1965, McCarthy became the founding director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
You probably already interact with Artificial Intelligence—perhaps every day—and rarely even think about it. Maybe your home has a Roomba to help tidy the floors, or a smart thermostat to keep temperatures and utility bills under control. Even families that don’t use a lot of other technology still are likely to use smartphones.
When Siri or Alexa answer your question, when your parents use Google Maps to get you to your ball game, or when Netflix recommends a show or Amazon suggests a book you might like—all of this is possible because of systems that use voice recognition and ones that are programmed to learn about a person’s preferences. But is this kind of A.I. really intelligent?
Is It Intelligence, Or Is It Programming?
The goal of many engineers and researchers who work in A.I. is to make machines that think like humans. But are robots and computers truly intelligent? Are they really learning the same way that a person does?
Autonomous cars, voice recognition software and the other technologies that seem to “think” on their own work because of sensors, programming and algorithms. An algorithm is a set of rules used to perform a task or solve a problem. Algorithms are used by mathematicians and by computers. So, if a machine is following a set of rules input by a human programmer, is it actually learning and thinking?
The bigger and more complex a computer system is, and the less a human interacts with it, the more it does what is called machine learning. This is a type of artificial intelligence where a computer looks at large amounts of data with little human involvement. In machine learning, the computer system builds models, identifies patterns and makes decisions on its own.
There are tasks that machines are able to ACCOMPLISH more easily than humans—things like compiling large amounts of data, identifying patterns, and seeing things on images like X-rays or scans that are difficult to detect with the naked eye. That’s why the medical field is one of the places that A.I. machines are being used. Machines can track blood glucose levels. They can detect patterns to diagnose disease. They can be robot companions to help monitor a person’s health and fitness.
Bigger System, Bigger Brain
Big businesses and universities work with complex computer systems that are moving toward true intelligence. IBM’s famous Watson competed on the game show “Jeopardy” and defeated some renowned human champions! The kind of A.I. that most people encounter on a day-to-day basis is not quite as intelligent.
Software engineer R.L. Adams writes that the types of A.I. that use voice recognition or learn a person’s preferences are not true A.I. He calls these pseudo-A.I. systems. They use behavioral algorithms to improve skills, but they are not actually getting smarter, he writes.
But Adams does think that pseudo-A.I. is valuable since it can help humans interact with machines more easily. According to Adams, true A.I. can learn on its own to find connections and meaning without pre-defined algorithms. He writes that A.I. will soon become smarter, faster and more human-like.
As A.I. becomes better, smarter and more widely used, it can create questions about how Artificial Intelligence should be used and what it means for people. Some researchers work on the ETHICS of A.I. to answer these questions and try to predict and prevent problems before they occur.
Making A.I. That Is Good for People
In March this year, Stanford University unveiled the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, or HAI. The goal of the institute is to make sure that A.I. is used for the benefit of humans.
On Stanford’s website, HAI co-directors John Etchemendy and Fei-Fei Li write about why they wanted to start the institute. A few years ago, Etchemendy was the provost at Stanford, and Li was the director of Stanford’s A.I. Lab when they became neighbors. They started discussing their views and concerns about the future of A.I.
“The way we educate and promote technology is not inspiring to enough people. So much of the discussion about A.I. is focused narrowly around engineering and algorithms,” Li recalls telling Etchemendy.
“We need a broader discussion: something deeper, something linked to our collective future. And even more importantly, that broader discussion and mindset will bring us a much more human-centered technology to make life better for everyone.”
So, HAI was devised to bring the humanities and social sciences—and many disciplines—into the conversation about the TRAJECTORY and consequences of A.I.
Marvelous Modern Machines
When some people think about A.I., they think of robots that look like humans and can do many of the things that humans can do. They imagine robots like the ones they see in television shows and movies. However, most of these “robots” are played by human actors or are created by special effects or animation. But there are some robots that have been made to closely resemble humans.
At Hanson Robotics, engineers have created a robot called Sophia. Sophia has a walking body and a human-like face. She can recognize faces and look for emotional expressions. Sophia uses natural language processing to interact with people and have regular conversations.
Sophia’s creators at Hanson Robotics say she is both an A.I. research project and a kind of living science fiction. Sophia derives her name from the Greek word for wisdom. She has appeared on television shows and at conventions.
Hanson Robotics founder David Hanson worked as a Walt Disney Imagineer and wrote the book “Humanizing Robots.” Hanson has invented new skin materials and facial mechanisms to make his robots more expressive and human-like. Hanson and his team want their robots to have warm, emotional interactions with the people they encounter. They create robots that can work in medical therapy, education, customer service and more.
One of Hanson Robotics’ latest creations is Little Sophia. This 14-inch tall robot is like the younger sibling of the bigger Sophia. Little Sophia is made to be a companion robot for children 7 and older. She can walk, talk, sing, tell jokes, and she is programmable.
Little Sophia aims to teach kids about STEM, coding and A.I. Little Sophia should be available to the public by the end of 2019.
Robotics & A.I. Terms
Algorithm: set of rules to perform a task or solve a problem (especially for a computer)
Autonomous: self-contained; existing or being able to exist independently
Big Data: large sets of data analyzed by computer to find patterns and trends
Chatbot: a computer program or an artificial intelligence made to converse, sometimes in text
Humanoid: having the appearance or characteristics of a human
Machine learning: a branch of artificial intelligence where computer systems learn using data with little human intervention
Natural Language Processing: a field of A.I. that focuses on computers understanding human languages
What Can A.I. Do for YOU?
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