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Artificial Intelligence – What It Is and Why It Matters

February 7, 2020

We have all heard about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it will revolutionize the future. Well, the future has arrived. Today, AI is at work in our everyday lives, helping us navigate the world, catch rides, keep calendars in sync, diagnose illnesses, and much more.

But what exactly is Artificial Intelligence? Broadly speaking, AI is the quest to build machines that can reason, act intelligently, and ultimately learn.

Current applications of AI include:

  • Voice recognition
  • Machine Learning
  • Image recognition
  • Medical technologies
  • Facial recognition
  • Object recognition

Over 25% of all homes in the US currently have smart speakers. Siri and Google Assistant help us manage our everyday lives.

Voice recognition – Voice recognition has become so ubiquitous that you may not even recognize it in everyday usage. It is a fundamental aspect of digital assistants on phones, hands-free navigation, interactions with banks and other institutions. One of the most interesting applications is utilizing it as the basis of translation engines. While these are available today, there is still much room for improvement in these applications, but the promise is fascinating.

Machine Learning is another fascinating aspect of Artificial Intelligence. Machine learning leverages statistical models and algorithms to solve problems without using explicit instructions. In the example of image recognition, the classic method would be to “tell” the computer that if there are two eyes, a nose and a mouth, that it is a face. With machine learning, if you show it enough examples of faces, it will start to identify faces on its own.

All of this is currently available and being used every day. The interesting and scary aspect is that AI is still in its infancy. As with every invention, there are positive and beneficial uses but also often times other scarier or more sinister uses to which the same invention can applied. Legislature and rules to govern AI are also in their infancy. As a society, we have already seen our privacy eroded in countless ways through the ubiquitous usage of social media as well as data breaches that have become so mundane that most of us tend to ignore the latest breach announcements. The US Department of State operates one of the most extensive face recognition systems in the world powered by driver’s license photos of over 117 million Americans.

One year ago, on February 11, an executive order launching an initiative to ensure the country’s leadership in artificial intelligence was signed. This directive is intended to:

direct the federal government to prioritize research and development of America’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.”  “Drive breakthroughs.”

 “To enact policies that promote and protect American leadership in technological development and innovation.”

Let us hope that we find a way to implement a legislative framework that allows us to safely balance the risks of AI—most specifically, machine learning—while enabling us to reap the rewards and eventually apply it toward solving some of humanity’s most significant problems.

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