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To not have heard about artificial intelligence (AI) at some point in the last few years, you will have had to have been living under a rock. The technology is not new, computer scientists have been working on it since the 1950s, though it has only become advanced enough to have practical uses in the last decade or so.
With these advancements, many in the industry believe it can have a significant effect on our lives in the coming years.
What is AI?
Computers are very efficient at crunching numbers and performing calculations. They can do in fractions of a second what a human would need minutes or even hours for. Traditional computing has worked by the machine blindly following the instructions given to it in the code.
Even when computers seem to be making intelligent decisions, like in computer games where enemies follow or attack you, they’re only following the instructions laid out by the programmers.
AI is different. AI is where a computer can demonstrate “intelligent” traits such as learning, perceiving, reasoning, problem-solving, and planning. While the computer may need to be programmed to undertake these activities, it can intelligently use these abilities.
How is AI Used today?
AI already has numerous applications in our world, from the mundane to the extraordinary. For example, digital assistants like the Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri use AI to learn more about the context of user questions and to provide better answers in the future.
Reverse image searches can use AI to recognize the objects contained in a picture and find similar ones elsewhere on the internet.
Banks and credit card companies use AI to monitor transactions and alert them to potentially fraudulent transactions, while your email provider likely uses AI to automatically move any spam emails to the junk folder.
AI is even used in medicine to interpret scans like X-rays to find tumors and other problems more accurately than a human.
These are only just the beginning for AI though, there are plenty of ways the technology could change our lives in the future.
Gaming has been using primitive forms of AI for many years. Non-playable characters (NPCs) are controlled by the computer to follow you, attack you, or help you. AI is also used to generate landscapes in open-world games where the map is infinitely explorable.
However, computers have traditionally struggled to beat humans at games of skill like chess and poker. There are too many variables and strategies for them to calculate and a talented player could usually beat them.
This is slowly changing, though. Since the late 1980s, supercomputers have been able to beat talented players. The most famous victory for a computer was when Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997. It wasn’t just any computer though, it took a specially-designed, chess-playing computer that contained hundreds of chips designed specifically to calculate all the possible outcomes of each move.
Computers have had similar problems beating talented poker players. Until recently these games have only been between the computer and one human player. Though, this isn’t really representative of how poker is typically played, since it’s a game where you’d typically see six or seven people at the table.
As computers become more powerful and artificial intelligence technology evolves, the situation is changing. Pluribus is one of the machines leading the way.
It is a supercomputer that packs 512 GB of memory, more than 10 times what you’d find inside the average consumer PC. Several exceptional players have played poker VS computer with Pluribus, with the AI regularly coming out on top.
This proves that it is feasible for computers to beat the greatest human poker players, though a large amount of processing power is currently required.
For gamers, this could mean they’ll be able to face truly challenging opponents in single-player modes as well as when playing against human competitors. The behavior of NPCs could also be made more realistic as a result, creating more realistic games.
Driverless cars were once the domain of science fiction but moved into the world of reality in the last couple of decades. Companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Tesla are all working on vehicles that can navigate our roads without the need for a human behind the wheel.
They all use artificial intelligence to make decisions on how to respond to the changing road conditions. The car’s onboard computers take in huge amounts of data every second, using cameras, radar, and other sensors to understand what’s happening around it and react accordingly.
We can see anecdotal evidence of this in the countless YouTube videos and news reports where Tesla users have been saved when their car stopped or swerved to prevent a collision.
Experts believe that if we have more driverless cars on our roads, we’re likely to see a dramatic reduction in the number of accidents.
Chatbots and Customer Service
If you’ve ever spent hours on the phone waiting to be connected to a customer service representative, then you’ll be glad to know that AI could help you avoid this misery.
Having a conversation with a human is something that computers have struggled with for some time. People ask questions in ways that programmers can’t predict, so AI needs to be able to interpret what it receives to be able to respond correctly.
Chatbots are starting to develop this ability and they’re being rolled out by companies across the internet. They can get you answers to questions faster than a human and can save you from waiting in a virtual queue.
They’re not infallible though, and human agents are still usually required to deal with many requests, but the bots can reduce their workload and improve everyone’s overall experience.
AI is a type of computing that goes beyond the machine just blindly following the instructions given to it by a programmer. It has one or more traits that we would consider to be human, such as the ability to problem-solve or learn from previous situations.
It’s already being used in many industries around the world, and if you have ever used a digital assistant, you’ve already interacted with AI.
With that said, AI has a long way to go. The gaming industry is one of the biggest examples of this. Computers can, in limited scenarios, beat talented human players at one specific game. But they’re still a long way from being at the same level as them.
AI does have the potential to radically change our lives though. While driverless cars may result in job losses, they could also save thousands of lives in road traffic accidents each year.