When most people hear the term “artificial intelligence,” the first things they think of are super-intelligent robots or some kind of computer that’s capable of acting, thinking and sounding like humans.
The reality, however, is that artificial intelligence is already here and it is all around us, in the form of very powerful algorithms that are capable of processing remarkable amounts of information.
Facets of Artificial Intelligence
Consider, for example, Facebook, the world’s most popular social network. More than 2 billion people around the planet use Facebook regularly, but it’s a safe bet that most people don’t think of Facebook as an artificial intelligence (AI) company. Yet, Facebook is one of the real tech pioneers at applying AI to everyday problems.
One of those problems involves deciding what to show you in your newsfeed. Powerful algorithms help to determine what you’ll see every day, based on things that you’ve liked in the past, and the attributes of people in your network.
Another common problem is facial recognition. Ever wondered how Facebook knows the names of people in the photos you’re posting to the social network? You can thank artificial intelligence for that.
That’s just the start of what AI can help people accomplish. At Google, for example, the hope is that AI can power autonomous driving machines. In other words, cars will be able to drive themselves without people.
This, of course, takes an enormous amount of computer processing ability and the ability for computers to learn over time (in what is known as machine learning). Not only do the cars have to make sense of multiple inputs at one time, they have to anticipate in advance how other cars are going to act based on previous experiences.
In just about any field that requires processing enormous amounts of data and information, artificial intelligence can play a role.
You’ve probably seen TV ads for IBM Watson describing how artificial intelligence can solve problems in fields like medicine. No single doctor can keep track of the thousands of journal articles that are published each year –but IBM Watson can. Thus, if you have a rare disease that your doctor can’t treat, it might be interesting to see if an AI-powered machine has a possible solution.
Universities around the world, led by educational institutions like Stanford University, are now teaching artificial intelligence for beginners courses. Examples can start very simple – such as teaching a computer how to recognize a dog in a photo – and easily get much more complex. People are now starting to explore possible AI applications in industries not even closely linked to technology.
Existential Threats from Artificial Intelligence
Based on all this, you might ask the following question: Why are so many of the world’s top scientific thinkers – like Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk – warning about the perils of artificial intelligence?
Elon Musk even went to the extent of describing AI as more dangerous than North Korea.
The answer, quite simply, is that computers might become so intelligent one day that we no longer have the ability to control what they do or even to understand what they are thinking.
At some point, people fear, computers will become so much more intelligent than humans that they will no longer listen to humans. Renowned Hungarian mathematician and computer scientist John von Neumann coined the term singularity to describe this precarious scenario.
For that reason, the world’s top AI practitioners are considering the various ethical and philosophical questions that might arise as a result of artificial intelligence becoming more and more powerful.
What happens, for example, when militaries begin exploring weapons powered by AI? What happens if AI-powered machines decide that humanity is destroying the earth via global warming – will they try to stop us as a way of protecting themselves?
As you can see, artificial intelligence for beginners is not just about learning how to code, it’s also about learning how to answer some of the most important questions of our generation.