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Ten Fun and Potentially Scary Facts about Artificial Intelligence

artificial intelligence (noun)

1: a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers

2: the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior

[as defined by Merriam Webster]

In Blake Crouch’s Summer Frost, an AI (artificial intelligence) spontaneously arises from the code for a minor character in a video game, and goes on, in Frankenstein’s monster fashion, to become an existential threat to all of humanity. Thats the role that AI plays in many science fiction tales - the evil force that mankind unknowingly unleashes in our rush to perfect our lives and our world.

Is AI really just a dark force around which to organize a good science fiction plot? The answer is no, artificial Intelligence exists in the real world today - it’s not just a sci-fi concept. But will AI ultimately serve any purpose other than as our potential future overlord? Decide for yourself with these Ten Fun and Potentially Scary Facts about Artificial Intelligence:

  1. AI Plays Chess - In 1997, an IBM supercomputer called Deep Blue won a six game chess match against world chess champion Gary Kasparov. This marked the first time that a computer had won a chess match against a human under tournament conditions. Discussing the match in 2016, Kasparov related that the state of the computing art had advanced so much that “Today you can buy a chess engine for your laptop that will beat Deep Blue quite easily."

  2. AI Plays Poker - In 2015 Claudico, an AI computer program designed by a Carnegie Mellon professor, dueled four of the top poker players in the world. Claudico came to a statistical draw, unable to best its human opponents over 80,000 hands of poker. Two years later a new AI from Carnegie Mellon, called Libratus won a tournament against four poker pros. Libratus took in US $1,766,250 in chips over 120,000 hands of Texas Hold ‘Em. The tournament was live streamed on Twitch and was the first time an AI had beaten human opponents in a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament.

  3. AI Serves Customers - Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and the Google Assistant are the voice technology front ends for sophisticated algorithms that help make our lives more convenient. All use machine learning (i.e. artificial intelligence) technologies. There are many other examples of AI serving online customers today - you may have encountered AI-powered customer service “chatbots” when trying to get answers to problems with an online purchase. We are not yet at the point however, where chatbots can outperform humans - “conversational chatbots” are yet to take the place of human customer service agents, though they can handle simple interactions.

  4. AI Speaks with a Female Voice? - Why do Siri, Alexa, Cortana and others speak with a woman’s voice? Some think a woman’s voice, being higher pitched, is clearer and easier for most people to understand than a man’s voice. Others suspect that since 78% of specialists working in AI today are male, they prefer to hear a woman’s voice when speaking to an “assistant”. Whatever the reason, it should be noted that most automated assistants today are able to speak in a range of voices including different genders, accents and languages.

  5. AI Creates Portraits -  In 2018 the auctioneer Christie’s sold the canvas print “Edmond de Belamy'' for US $432,500 - well beyond its estimate at US $7000 to $10,000. The somewhat blurry portrait of a man was produced by a “generative adversarial network” software package trained on a set of 15,000 portraits by the French art collective known as Obvious. This was the first artwork created using AI that Christie’s has auctioned. The portrait of Edmond is part of a series called La Famille de Belamy, produced by Obvious using AI.

  6. AI Passes the (Turing) Test - There continues to be debate as to what qualifies as “artificial intelligence”. Alan Turing, in a 1951 paper, proposed a test by which we could judge whether a piece of technology was “intelligent” or not. The test basically posits that if 30% of people sitting at a computer terminal participating in online conversations, cannot tell if their conversational partner (a computer program / technology on the other side of the conversation) isn’t human, then that technology is “intelligent”. Turing suspected his test would be passed in “about 50 years time”. In fact, it took until 2014 before “Eugene Goostman”, a Russian / Ukranian computer program, designed to act as a 13 year old boy, passed a Turing test at an event marking the 60th anniversary of Turing’s death.

  7. AI might use Brute Force or a Neural Network - Deep Blue, the chess playing supercomputer, used “brute force” methods to achieve chess fame. Deep Blue calculated 200 million chess moves per second and selected the best move based on a defined set of objectives. It did not have the ability to learn. A different approach called “neural networks” creates algorithms that enable machines to recognize patterns, learn from them and make predictions rather than crunch through computations in brute force. Such algorithmic approaches are also known as “machine learning” and are meant to be of more general use in problem solving rather than tied to a specific use like playing chess. 

  8. AI is Self Driving - Making self-driving cars a reality will rely on artificial intelligence. Detecting people and other cars, staying in the proper lane, following GPS directions, obeying traffic lights - when you think of all the things you need to do when you drive a car you can understand why “intelligence” is a requirement. 

  9. AI Might Make Your Job Disappear - In 2016 Stephen Hawking warned that AI is likely to accelerate technological change in such a way as to directly impact jobs beyond manufacturing and into the middle classes. Self driving trucks would replace truck drivers, while AI tax expertise might replace CPAs, as just a couple of examples.

  10. AI May Be Our Overlords Yet - there is enough concern among people who know and understand the potential of AI that in 2015 hundreds of scientists and engineers, including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk signed an open letter warning of it’s potential pitfalls. This came after Hawking, Musk and others warned that the development of AI could “spell the end of the human race”.

So, will AI technologies ultimately advance beyond our control, and decide it's in our best interest to put us out of our collective misery? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.