A.I. — The Power and Perils of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence is a hotly discussed topic these days, but it’s nothing new. Popular culture has reflected our fascination with A.I. for years in movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, I, Robot, and, logically enough, A.I. So what exactly is artificial intelligence? It’s here, it’s the future, and to some people, it seems a little bit scary.
John McCarthy was a highly-regarded scientist at Stanford and MIT. It was he who concocted the name Artificial intelligence in 1955, defining it as, “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.”
Actually, the origins of our intrigue with artificial intelligence can be traced back far beyond the advent of the modern computer age. Around 2500 B.C., ancient Egyptians sometimes consulted with statues to gain insights from their suspected otherworldly wisdom. Today, a hulking bust of Re-Harmakis in a Cairo museum, “reveals the secret of his genius: an opening at the nape just big enough to hold a priest.”
Other revolutionary inventions such as Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine in 1833, paved the way for contemporary computing and what has come to be known as artificial intelligence. By 1948, at the dawn of the digital age, the stage seemed set for the rapid advancement of A.I. British computer scientist Alan Turing raised many eyebrows in the scientific community and beyond with his “Intelligent Machinery” paper, “seeing no objections to a working, thinking machine by the end of the century.”
Early, clunky computers such as the UNIVAC 1 gave way to others, such as IBM’s Deep Blue, the first computer chess program that effectively dispensed with all human challengers.
Today, major companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google have already invested heavily in A.I. to improve search engine technology and to provide people with viable cyber-assistants. Quite naturally, artificial intelligence is being harnessed to do useful things in fields like health care, as providers “leverage new technologies to improve outcomes and reduce costs (with) the availability of cheaper and more powerful computers.”
Watson is a computer designed specifically to answer questions presented to it in plainly spoken language. A product of IBM’s Deep QA project, Watson was actually developed to compete on the popular television show, Jeopardy! against a pair of former champions. Ultimately, Watson prevailed and won the competition, with a little help from the “200 million pages of structured and unstructured content consuming four terabytes of disk storage including the full text of Wikipedia at its disposal.”
Capitalizing on this newfound public awareness of Watson’s capabilities, IBM introduced Watson as a commercial entity to the healthcare sector where it has been utilized by nurses at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to assist in important decisions regarding lung cancer treatments.
Beyond the medical realm, A.I. is now being employed in other areas, such as law enforcement, stock trading, scientific research, and the toy industry. Oxford University’s Nick Bostrum notes; “Many thousands of A.I. applications are deeply embedded in the infrastructure of every industry.”
Artificial intelligence is not without its detractors. Respected English Theoretical Physicist, Stephen Hawking, has gone on the record stating: “Artificial intelligence could be a real danger in the not too distant future.” He believes that one day a robot could, “design improvements to itself and outsmart us all.”
Physicist, Louis Del Monte, author of The Artificial Intelligence Revolution, recently made this alarming prediction concerning the rapid advancement of AI. “Between 2040 and 2045, we will have developed a machine or machines that are not only equivalent to a human mind, but more intelligent than the entire human race combined.”
In truth, AI could assist us in the application of data in ways that humans could never imagine. Possibilities expand when one considers the ongoing collaboration between instruments of artificial intelligence and the humans who created them. As these systems evolve and are enhanced, A.I. will continue to “be woven into the fabric of our daily lives, helping us with everything from basic decision-making to driving our cars”. By harnessing this tremendous source of burgeoning knowledge, the science-fiction of the past is quickly becoming the exciting reality of today.