Who’s afraid of the big bad…AI

Newsroom 19/03/2018 | 11:39

Although it sounds rather futuristic and like something out of a sci-fi book, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is anything but fiction, having been part of our lives for some time already. And its role is only going to increase. Currently still in its infancy, scientists are exploring AI’s full potential while striving to come up with the advanced computing technologies required for its further development. BR found out more.

By Dan Serbanescu


The current power of AI

We may not be aware of it, but the voice assistants in our smartphones and computers, from Siri to Google Now and Cortana, are just real-life embodiments of AI systems. Furthermore, AIs power smart-home speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa and automatic image recognition modules in software. Even Google Search cannot work without machine learning, which is a sub-domain of AI. A technology called RankBrain has already been helping with the sorting of search results for about two years. Around 15 percent of daily queries are new to Google, so RankBrain algorithms search for samples in the unknown search queries and link them with semantically similar terms. Finally, the search machine itself learns all that and can deliver suitable answers to never before made queries.

Today’s AIs are based on so-called neural networks, which are a form of collective computing trying to mimic the way the human brain works. They rely heavily on the concept of machine learning, requiring intensive training for the given task. One of the most spectacular AIs is Google’s AlphaGo, which has defeated the best Go-players in the world. Go is a Japanese board game, said to be far more complex than chess, and the development of software that could play Go on a professional level was considered impossible for many years. But after human-trained AlphaGo, a further developed AI, AlphaGo Zero, managed to teach itself the game, based only on the rules. Three days later, it achieved professional level and three weeks later it was as good as its predecessor AlphaGo, which had to be trained exhaustively with millions of professional matches. As it turns out, AIs are rather limited by human intervention. After six weeks, AlphaGo Zero became unbeatable.


Practical uses

Given their analytical prowess, AIs can and already do have practical applications such as identifying hidden trends following Big Data processing of huge amounts of business information. An AI can correlate otherwise seemingly unrelated items and can find trends and opportunities, so its business use has potential whose surface has barely been scratched so far. And Amazon already seems to be pursuing this, with its transactional AI, which has been in operation for quite some time, making huge amounts of money online. Amazon’s algorithms are continuously being refined, and the company has become smart at predicting customers’ interests based on their online behavior, say commentators. Netflix is another example of predictive technology based on customers’ habits. It analyzes billions of records to suggest films that a viewer might like based on his or her previous choices. AIs are also successfully used in fields such as data encryption and even image compression, the latter being developed by a Facebook startup company called WaveOne.


Should we worry?

Although some scientists, such as physicist Stephen Hawking, have repeatedly warned against the expansion of AIs to a level where they could take over the world, for now there have been mostly positive and practical developments in this field. But AIs can and probably will be weaponized, which is a fear shared by visionary businesspeople such as Elon Musk, and already confirmed by world leaders such as Russian president Vladimir Putin. The USA already has a strategy in place for a so-called algorithmic war, while the rest of the world seems to be engaging in a rather futile attempt to ban weaponized AIs. Like many other major inventions in human history, AI can also do harm, but a world in which Ovelord and Protector Siri is about to crush the last pockets of human resistance hopefully remains the stuff of B movies.

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