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What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. The term may also be applied to any machine that exhibits traits associated with a human mind such as learning and problem-solving.

The ideal characteristic of artificial intelligence is its ability to rationalize and take actions that have the best chance of achieving a specific goal.

Artificial intelligence makes it possible for machines to learn from experience, adjust to new inputs and perform human-like tasks. Most AI examples that you hear about today – from chess-playing computers to self-driving cars – rely heavily on deep learning and natural language processing. Using these technologies, computers can be trained to accomplish specific tasks by processing large amounts of data and recognizing patterns in the data.

Artificial Intelligence History

The term artificial intelligence was coined in 1956, but AI has become more popular today thanks to increased data volumes, advanced algorithms, and improvements in computing power and storage.

Early AI research in the 1950s explored topics like problem solving and symbolic methods. In the 1960s, the US Department of Defense took interest in this type of work and began training computers to mimic basic human reasoning. For example, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) completed street mapping projects in the 1970s. And DARPA produced intelligent personal assistants in 2003, long before Siri, Alexa or Cortana were household names.

This early work paved the way for the automation and formal reasoning that we see in computers today, including decision support systems and smart search systems that can be designed to complement and augment human abilities.

While Hollywood movies and science fiction novels depict AI as human-like robots that take over the world, the current evolution of AI technologies isn’t that scary – or quite that smart. Instead, AI has evolved to provide many specific benefits in every industry. Keep reading for modern examples of artificial intelligence in health care, retail and more.

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Understanding Artificial Intelligence

When most people hear the term artificial intelligence, the first thing they usually think of is robots. That's because big-budget films and novels weave stories about human-like machines that wreak havoc on Earth. But nothing could be further from the truth. 

Artificial intelligence is based on the principle that human intelligence can be defined in a way that a machine can easily mimic it and execute tasks, from the most simple to those that are even more complex. The goals of artificial intelligence include learning, reasoning, and perception. 

As technology advances, previous benchmarks that defined artificial intelligence become outdated. For example, machines that calculate basic functions or recognize text through optimal character recognition are no longer considered to embody artificial intelligence, since this function is now taken for granted as an inherent computer function. 

AI is continuously evolving to benefit many different industries. Machines are wired using a cross-disciplinary approach based in mathematics, computer science, linguistics, psychology, and more.

Applications of Artificial Intelligence

The applications for artificial intelligence are endless. The technology can be applied to many different sectors and industries. AI is being tested and used in the healthcare industry for dosing drugs and different treatment in patients, and for surgical procedures in the operating room.

 

Other examples of machines with artificial intelligence include computers that play chess and self-driving cars. Each of these machines must weigh the consequences of any action they take, as each action will impact the end result. In chess, the end result is winning the game. For self-driving cars, the computer system must account for all external data and compute it to act in a way that prevents a collision.

 

Artificial intelligence also has applications in the financial industry, where it is used to detect and flag activity in banking and finance such as unusual debit card usage and large account deposits—all of which help a bank's fraud department. Applications for AI are also being used to help streamline and make trading easier. This is done by making supply, demand, and pricing of securities easier to estimate.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Artificial intelligence refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines.
  • The goals of artificial intelligence include learning, reasoning, and perception.
  • AI is being used across different industries including finance and healthcare.
  • Weak AI tends to be simple and single-task oriented, while strong AI carries on tasks that are more complex and human-like.

    Categorization of Artificial Intelligence

    Artificial intelligence can be divided into two different categories: weak and strong. Weak artificial intelligence embodies a system designed to carry out one particular job. Weak AI systems include video games such as the chess example from above and personal assistants such as Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri. You ask the assistant a question, it answers it for you. 

    Strong artificial intelligence systems are systems that carry on the tasks considered to be human-like. These tend to be more complex and complicated systems. They are programmed to handle situations in which they may be required to problem solve without having a person intervene. These kinds of systems can be found in applications like self-driving cars or in hospital operating rooms. 

    Special Considerations

    Since its beginning, artificial intelligence has come under scrutiny from scientists and the public alike. One common theme is the idea that machines will become so highly developed that humans will not be able to keep up and they will take off on their own, redesigning themselves at an exponential rate. 

    Another is that machines can hack into people's privacy and even be weaponized. Other arguments debate the ethics of artificial intelligence and whether intelligent systems such as robots should be treated with the same rights as humans. 

    Self-driving cars have been fairly controversial as their machines tend to be designed for the lowest possible risk and the least casualties. If presented with a scenario of colliding with one person or another at the same time, these cars would calculate the option that would cause the least amount of damage. 

    Another contentious issue many people have with artificial intelligence is how it may affect human employment. With many industries looking to automate certain jobs through the use of intelligent machinery, there is a concern that people would be pushed out of the workforce. Self-driving cars may remove the need for taxis and car-share programs, while manufacturers may easily replace human labor with machines, making people's skills more obsolete.

    Why is artificial intelligence important?

    • AI automates repetitive learning and discovery through data. But AI is different from hardware-driven, robotic automation. Instead of automating manual tasks, AI performs frequent, high-volume, computerized tasks reliably and without fatigue. For this type of automation, human inquiry is still essential to set up the system and ask the right questions.
    • AI adds intelligence to existing products. In most cases, AI will not be sold as an individual application. Rather, products you already use will be improved with AI capabilities, much like Siri was added as a feature to a new generation of Apple products. Automation, conversational platforms, bots and smart machines can be combined with large amounts of data to improve many technologies at home and in the workplace, from security intelligence to investment analysis.
    • AI adapts through progressive learning algorithms to let the data do the programming. AI finds structure and regularities in data so that the algorithm acquires a skill: The algorithm becomes a classifier or a predictor. So, just as the algorithm can teach itself how to play chess, it can teach itself what product to recommend next online. And the models adapt when given new data. Back propagation is an AI technique that allows the model to adjust, through training and added data, when the first answer is not quite right.
    • AI analyzes more and deeper data using neural networks that have many hidden layers. Building a fraud detection system with five hidden layers was almost impossible a few years ago. All that has changed with incredible computer power and big data. You need lots of data to train deep learning models because they learn directly from the data. The more data you can feed them, the more accurate they become.
    • AI achieves incredible accuracy through deep neural networks – which was previously impossible. For example, your interactions with Alexa, Google Search and Google Photos are all based on deep learning – and they keep getting more accurate the more we use them. In the medical field, AI techniques from deep learning, image classification and object recognition can now be used to find cancer on MRIs with the same accuracy as highly trained radiologists.
    • AI gets the most out of data. When algorithms are self-learning, the data itself can become intellectual property. The answers are in the data; you just have to apply AI to get them out. Since the role of the data is now more important than ever before, it can create a competitive advantage. If you have the best data in a competitive industry, even if everyone is applying similar techniques, the best data will win.

    How Artificial Intelligence Is Being Used

    Every industry has a high demand for AI capabilities – especially question answering systems that can be used for legal assistance, patent searches, risk notification and medical research. Other uses of AI include:

    Health Care

    AI applications can provide personalized medicine and X-ray readings. Personal health care assistants can act as life coaches, reminding you to take your pills, exercise or eat healthier.

    Retail

    AI provides virtual shopping capabilities that offer personalized recommendations and discuss purchase options with the consumer. Stock management and site layout technologies will also be improved with AI. 

    Manufacturing

    AI can analyze factory IoT data as it streams from connected equipment to forecast expected load and demand using recurrent networks, a specific type of deep learning network used with sequence data.   

    Banking

    Artificial Intelligence enhances the speed, precision and effectiveness of human efforts. In financial institutions, AI techniques can be used to identify which transactions are likely to be fraudulent, adopt fast and accurate credit scoring, as well as automate manually intense data management tasks.

     

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    What are the challenges of using artificial intelligence?

    Artificial intelligence is going to change every industry, but we have to understand its limits.

    The principle limitation of AI is that it learns from the data. There is no other way in which knowledge can be incorporated. That means any inaccuracies in the data will be reflected in the results. And any additional layers of prediction or analysis have to be added separately.

    Today’s AI systems are trained to do a clearly defined task. The system that plays poker cannot play solitaire or chess. The system that detects fraud cannot drive a car or give you legal advice. In fact, an AI system that detects health care fraud cannot accurately detect tax fraud or warranty claims fraud.

    In other words, these systems are very, very specialized. They are focused on a single task and are far from behaving like humans.

    Likewise, self-learning systems are not autonomous systems. The imagined AI technologies that you see in movies and TV are still science fiction. But computers that can probe complex data to learn and perfect specific tasks are becoming quite common.

     

    How Artificial Intelligence Works

    AI works by combining large amounts of data with fast, iterative processing and intelligent algorithms, allowing the software to learn automatically from patterns or features in the data. AI is a broad field of study that includes many theories, methods and technologies, as well as the following major subfields:

    • Machine learning automates analytical model building. It uses methods from neural networks, statistics, operations research and physics to find hidden insights in data without explicitly being programmed for where to look or what to conclude.
    • A neural network is a type of machine learning that is made up of interconnected units (like neurons) that processes information by responding to external inputs, relaying information between each unit. The process requires multiple passes at the data to find connections and derive meaning from undefined data.
    • Deep learning uses huge neural networks with many layers of processing units, taking advantage of advances in computing power and improved training techniques to learn complex patterns in large amounts of data. Common applications include image and speech recognition.
    • Cognitive computing is a subfield of AI that strives for a natural, human-like interaction with machines. Using AI and cognitive computing, the ultimate goal is for a machine to simulate human processes through the ability to interpret images and speech – and then speak coherently in response.  
    • Computer vision relies on pattern recognition and deep learning to recognize what’s in a picture or video. When machines can process, analyze and understand images, they can capture images or videos in real time and interpret their surroundings.
    • Natural language processing (NLP) is the ability of computers to analyze, understand and generate human language, including speech. The next stage of NLP is natural language interaction, which allows humans to communicate with computers using normal, everyday language to perform tasks.

    Additionally, several technologies enable and support AI:

    • Graphical processing units are key to AI because they provide the heavy compute power that’s required for iterative processing. Training neural networks requires big data plus compute power.
    • The Internet of Things generates massive amounts of data from connected devices, most of it unanalyzed. Automating models with AI will allow us to use more of it.
    • Advanced algorithms are being developed and combined in new ways to analyze more data faster and at multiple levels. This intelligent processing is key to identifying and predicting rare events, understanding complex systems and optimizing unique scenarios.
    • APIs, or application programming interfaces, are portable packages of code that make it possible to add AI functionality to existing products and software packages. They can add image recognition capabilities to home security systems and Q&A capabilities that describe data, create captions and headlines, or call out interesting patterns and insights in data.

    In summary, the goal of AI is to provide software that can reason on input and explain on output. AI will provide human-like interactions with software and offer decision support for specific tasks, but it’s not a replacement for humans – and won’t be anytime soon. 

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