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Saturday, December 23, 2017

How to explain AI to your family over the Christmas turkey | - Artificial Intelligence

Photo: Matthew Reynolds
"If you believe Elon Musk, then AI is going to kill us all. So why is it in everything from home assistants to washing machines?" insist Matthew Reynolds, Staff Writer at WIRED UK.
Photo: iStock/composite

Depending on who you ask, artificial intelligence is either going to save humanity or kill us all. At the same time, AI seems to be in everything from home assistants to washing machines. But what is AI, and why is everyone going on about it?

Here’s how to explain artificial intelligence to your family over Christmas when they ask whether they’ve unwittingly inviting the AI apocalypse into their living room.

What is artificial intelligence?
Roughly speaking, artificial intelligence research is all about creating computers that can perform tasks that usually require human intelligence. Speech and image recognition, translation and complex decision making are some examples of the kinds of tasks that, until now, have always required a human touch.

So it’s just a fancy way of describing computers then?
Not really. Many tasks that computers perform now don’t do anything that looks much like intelligence. Just look at the word computer: a computer computes. It's a glorified calculator (sort of). The computer takes an input from a human – a number, image, or command – performs a series of predefined calculations, and spits out an answer.

And what does AI do that’s different? 
Maybe it’ll help to talk about how humans perform tasks, to see how we’re so different. Say we see a nice dog in the street. Most of us can pretty immediately recognise that it’s a dog, even if we can’t see most of it, or perhaps can only hear it. We’re pretty good at recognising dogs no matter what they look like – even if they’re just cartoons or weird sketches. And we learned all this without anyone explicitly sitting us down, pointing at all these different kinds of dogs, cartoon and real, and telling us that they are indeed dogs. Most kinds of computing tasks just don’t work like that – older versions of computer recognition software required humans to tell the computer precisely what to look out for in order for it to recognise an image...

What does the future of AI look like?
One area that researchers are really interested in is called artificial general intelligence (AGI). Humans aren’t just good at learning really specific tasks, we’re also pretty great at transferring knowledge between tasks too. Once we’ve learned to pick up a mug, for example, we don’t need to relearn from scratch how to pick up a book. AGI researchers are interested in creating machines that are able to transfer knowledge from one domain into another. That’s why the researchers at Google’s machine learning outfit, DeepMind, are so chuffed that their AlphaGo algorithm, which beat the world’s best Go players, can also learn how to play chess.