Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here. It goes unnoticed but it’s everywhere, embedded in our smartphones, household appliances, and computers. It’s the new electricity and it’s about to change our lives.
For instance, by 2022, smartphones will actually be smart. They will know who we are, what we want, when we want it, and how to get it for us. They will automatically track our daily movements, plan our schedules, and extract us from difficult situations using sensors, cameras, and data.
The late physicist Stephen Hawking found this prospect terrifying, calling AI “the worst event in the history of our civilization.“
Historian Yuval Noah Harari believes it will make humans redundant and turn them into a “useless class” [of people] “who are not just unemployed, but unemployable.”
Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk also views AI with suspicion, fearing it will be a “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization”. To reduce this possibility, he founded OpenAI, a non-profit research company that aims to prevent machines from morphing into a version of HAL, the psychotic computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Despite fears that AI will turn nasty, most scientists currently working in the field consider this outcome laughable. Rather than AI wiping us out, they say, it will be the “new electricity, working invisibly and tirelessly behind the scenes to improve our lives.“
According to this view, AI’s more likely to resemble the smart, intuitive, and empathetic intelligence portrayed in the movie Her.
AI might have a way to go before it gets as smart as us, but technological advances over the past few years bring this possibility tantalizingly close.
So close, in fact, that we need to brace for the AI revolution.
Generally speaking, AI refers to machine intelligence, but because no one can agree on a definition of human intelligence, let alone machine intelligence, we have a problem.
What we consider to be intelligent behaviour in one time, place, and culture is not necessarily considered all that intelligent in another time, place, and culture.
Despite this, human smartness researchers concur that it appears to be a combination of:
- reasoning, planning, and problem solving
- mental flexibility
- adaptability, and
- an inclination to learn from and interact with a wide range of environments and situations.
So when AI displays these characteristics consistently and convincingly we will consider it intelligent.
AI comes in two types: Artificial Narrow Intelligence and General Artificial Intelligence.
Artificial Narrow Intelligence
Right now, we have what is called Weak AI, or Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI).
ANI has no self-awareness and can only do one thing at a time.
Take the digital assistant Siri, for example. Although she answers questions and responds to her environment in human-like fashion, she lacks creativity. Siri only performs highly specific tasks in rigidly prescribed ways, hence the moniker Narrow AI.
General intelligence is AI’s Holy Grail.
It is vastly different to Narrow AI and displays the type of versatile intellect found in humans. Its flexible intelligence makes it able to learn and execute complex tasks including surgery, massage, building software and even cutting hair. It can discuss a wide variety of topics based on its learning and experience and resembles the AI of books and movies. No one working in the AI field is entirely sure when General AI will appear.
Where are we now?
AI is still in its infancy.
We are at least a decade away from truly intelligent AI. Research suggests the following AI timeline.
- In 1950, British mathematician Alan Turing developed a test to determine if a machine is as smart as a human. It came to be known as the Turing Test
- As of 2018, no machine has passed this test.
- By 2030, futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts machines will all be passing the Turing Test routinely.
- By 2035, most of us will have robots in our homes and intelligent machines will be our best friends, advisers and caretakers.
- By 2040, humans will be half-cyborg and half human.
- By 2045, we will reach the Singularity where our entire reality will change in ways completely unimaginable to us today. Humans and machines will merge and create a new form of life.
By then, AI will truly have become, the new electricity.