An Artificial Intelligence Definition for Dummies

Why We Need to Take Advantage of This Technology Before It Takes Advantage of Us

Jan 24, 2023. | By Will Hurd

Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, 1992

The term artificial intelligence describes a field in computer science that refers to computers or machines being able to simulate human intelligence to perform tasks or solve problems. Within our lifetimes, artificial intelligence (AI) will have altered our world more significantly and faster than any other technology since the discovery of electricity.

Whenever new technologies seem likely to  influence the cultural zeitgeist, folks always start making wildly wrong predictions like the one about the smartphone from former Intel CEO Andy Grove (see above). Some of the worst tech predictions in the past 100 years include: 

  • The President of Western Union in 1876 saying, “This ‘telephone’ has far too many shortcomings to be taken seriously as a means of communication. It has objectively no value.” 
  • The President of the Michigan Savings Bank telling Henry Ford’s lawyer in 1903 that, “The automobile is a fad, a novelty. Horses are here to stay.”
  • Film producer and 20th Century Fox movie executive, Darryl Zanuck stating in 1946 that, “Television will never hold onto an audience. People will very quickly get bored of staring at a plywood box every night”. 

In the early 2000s nobody thought that 20 years later social media would lead to an increase in teenage girls cutting themselves or being the fuel to encourage insurrectionists to storm the Capitol, but our institutions - governments, academia, business, philanthropy -- failed to address legitimate concerns about this technology in advance of it becoming a problem.

Ignoring, fighting, and failing to prepare for the coming inevitable ubiquity of artificial intelligence will make it harder for society to ensure we take advantage of this technology rather than it taking advantage of us. 

In the 80s we learned that "knowing is half the battle" from the public service announcements brought to us by the characters in the HASBRO cartoon G.I. Joe. The first step to ensuring that human intelligence reigns supreme is having a working understanding of artificial intelligence and its capabilities. 

What Does AI Stand For and What Are Its Capabilities?

AI stands for artificial intelligence and its capabilities are hard to keep up with because the field is rapidly advancing. AI has already started playing a major role in tasks such as healthcare, transportation, and finance. Its capabilities allow it to make decisions like those a human brain might make, but at a much faster rate by analyzing large amounts of data in a short period of time. This gives AI the potential to detect and predict diseases, revolutionize traffic conditions, and optimize stocks effectively. AI can also offer greater accuracy which can improve processes and raise efficiency levels significantly. 

Artificial Intelligence Versus Machine Learning

Artificial intelligence refers to the broader field of creating machines that can perform tasks that typically require human intelligence, such as reasoning, problem solving, and natural language processing. Machine learning (ML) is a subset of AI and computer science that focuses on using algorithms to learn from data to make predictions or decisions. Machine learning is one aspect of AI, but not all AI systems use machine learning.

The Science of AI - Deep Learning Techniques

Image of a cat dataset used in deep learning, Jason Brownlee

Photo: Image of a cat dataset used in deep learning, Jason Brownlee - Machine Learning Mastery

The breakthrough that put artificial intelligence on its current trajectory was a type of machine learning called "deep learning." AI systems use tons of data from a specific domain to recognize patterns and correlations linked to a desired outcome. If you feed AI algorithms using deep learning one million images labeled "cat" and one million images labeled "not cat," they will be able to draw on its extensive network of correlations, many unseen or undetectable by a human being, to determine whether a new image is a cat or not. 

This technique of deep learning is what enables “computer vision” - a computer being able to look at an image and understand what’s in it. It also allows for "speech recognition" - a computer being able to understand human language – like when you talk to Siri on your iPhone. 

How We Are Already Using Autonomous AI Systems

Results of a survey on Artificial Intelligence of subscribers to "The Brief,"

Photo: Results of a survey on Artificial Intelligence of subscribers to "The Brief," (January 20, 2023)

During my time in the House of Representatives when I hosted the first hearings in the history of Congress on artificial intelligence, it was easy to see how AI would transform the nature of work and affect every aspect of the economy. Right now, grocery store cashiers are being replaced by automated systems. We have AI assisted robotic surgery. Computer systems are using software written by AI. Factories are using robots that use AI technologies to work alongside humans. Many folks are unaware that they are already using AI tools in several of the following ways: 

  • Virtual assistants: Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant are all powered by AI. These virtual assistants use natural language processing to understand what we say and respond accordingly. AI is also being used in banking and healthcare to power chatbots, which answer customer queries and provide information without the need for human intervention.
  • Recommendation engines: Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube all use AI to make recommendations for what we might like to watch, read, or listen to based on our past behavior. AI is used to power features like Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm, which determines what content we see on our feeds.
  • Autonomous driving: Self driving cars use AI to understand and navigate the world around them. This includes tasks like recognizing traffic signs, pedestrians, and other vehicles. 
  • Medical imaging: AI and machine learning is being used to help doctors analyze medical images, such as X-rays and CT scans, to detect and diagnose diseases. 
  • Drug development: AI is being used to help identify and develop new medications, by analyzing vast quantities of data to identify potential drug targets. 
  • Fraud detection: Banks are using AI to detect fraudulent activity, such as credit card fraud or money laundering.
  • How AI ATMS work: AI capabilities have been embedded into bank ATMs to forecast demand more precisely and tell the banks when they must restock the ATMs so customers are always able to get cash out of the machine.              

AI in the workplace will only continue to grow.

Asking AI Questions: The Dos and Don’ts

Screen capture of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman's Twitter Feed

Photo: Screen capture of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman's Twitter Feed (December 10, 2022)

One of the things increasing the public's consciousness of the power of AI is a tool called ChatGPT. GPT is short for "Generative Pre-training Transformer" and is a language model developed by the San Francisco based company OpenAI. ChatGPT is trained to generate text that is similar to human-written language, and it can be fine-tuned for a variety of language generation tasks such as translation, question answering, and summarization. 

In early 2023, the New York City Department of Education banned access to ChatGPT over fears “it could harm students' education and in order to help prevent cheating.” 

In an interview with StrictlyVC, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman sympathized with educators’ concerns and is already working on testing watermarks on GPT’s responses and other techniques to curb plagiarism. However, he added, 

Generative text is something we all need to adapt to. We adapted to calculators and changed what we tested for in math class. This is a more extreme version of that, no doubt, but also the benefits of it are more extreme, as well.

Additionally, culture warriors and trolls are using ChatGPT as a platform to reinforce their own beliefs or criticize beliefs with which they disagree. Ultimately an AI system that uses machine learning and deep learning is trained on large datasets of conversations to be able to handle a wide variety of topics and viewpoints.

While chatbots may sometimes reflect the biases of the data they are trained on, they are not inherently liberal or conservative, and can be manipulated to produce any kind of response intended by the user. 

If you are asking AI questions, remember to use specific and concise language to increase the likelihood of getting a relevant response, and don't expect the chatbot to be a substitute for human interaction. Understand its limitations and use it as a tool to speed up getting answers or assistance.

AI of the Future: Will it Change the Way We Live and Work?

Title shot of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Jetsons

Photo: Title shot of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Jetsons, originally aired in 1962 but took place 100 years in the future in 2062.

Many of the examples of artificial intelligence used in this article are examples of "narrow AI" -- artificial intelligence systems designed for a specific task like recognizing faces in photographs, understanding language, or predicting outcomes in financial markets. However Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is something different. AGI is a highly autonomous system that outperforms humans at most economically valuable work.

While we are far from a future portrayed in the cartoon The Jetsons, Intelligent machines that are powered by artificial general intelligence will wipe out a significant number of jobs -- white collar, blue collar and no collar -- up and down the economic ladder. In his brilliant book AI Super-Powers, Kai-Fu Lee explains how accountants, assembly line workers, warehouse operators, stock analysts, quality control inspectors, truckers, paralegals, and even radiologists are some examples of the types of careers to be impacted by AI.

This impact on the future of work will be accompanied by a significant concentration of wealth in the hands of a few AI tycoons.

The Benefits of Artificial Intelligence and How It Can Improve Our Lives

While its potential for taking over jobs is evident and concerning, AGI will revolutionize many industries, create new kinds of jobs, and make life much easier for us humans in the long term. In 2017, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated:

AI deployment could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030, more than the current output of China and India combined. Of this, $6.6 trillion is likely to come from increased productivity and $9.1 trillion is likely to come from consumption side effects.  

What Artificial Intelligence Movies Get Right and Wrong       

Movie Posters

Talking about machine intelligence, machine learning, self-driving cars, computer vision, and speech recognition can seem like a page straight out of science fiction. Science fiction has long served a dual purpose, entertaining us with wild adventures and presenting thoughtful commentary on the ways in which our actions can shape and influence the future. 

Sci-fi serves as a reminder to us that while technology changes constantly, we should also remain mindful of how this progress will impact humanity's very identity as a species. Here are three sci fi movies that are often referenced when it comes to artificial intelligence:

  1. Matrix 3 (2003) - In this trilogy, the humans and the AI machines are in a tense standoff, with the humans trapped in the virtual reality of the Matrix while the machines harvest their energy. However, in the third film, when a new threat in the form of Agent Smith emerges, the humans and the machines are forced to work together to stop him.
  2. I, Robot (2004) – This action movie, inspired by the Isaac Asimov short story collection of the same name, imagines a future in which robots are commonplace and a part of everyday life. However, when they start to exhibit dangerous behavior, the protagonist must figure out what is going on.
  3. Ex Machina (2014) – In this thriller, a scientist invites an employee to his secluded estate to participate in a test with a humanoid robot. The film explores the concept of artificial intelligence passing the “Turing Test” (the ability of a computer system to convincingly imitate human conversation).

Matrix 3 gets the potential for humans and AIworking together to solve difficult challenges. I, Robot correctly predicts that robots will become more and more commonplace in our lives. Ex Machina accurately portrays the potential for artificial intelligence to pass the Turing Test and convincingly imitate human conversation.

One thing these movies all share is the level of AI advancement depicted as well beyond any realities of what we can currently achieve.

The Risks and Dangers Associated with Artificial Intelligence and How We Can Mitigate These Risks

AI technology becoming more sophisticated and ubiquitous has been met with increasing public concern over the rapid development of artificial intelligence and its potential impact on society. There is a growing need for legislators to consider how best to regulate this new field since AI technology poses several ethical concerns, including the potential for misuse by governments and corporations, and the need to protect the privacy of individuals. 

TikTok Lawsuit Highlights How AI Is Potentially Going to Influence Our Lives 

TikTok, one of the world's most popular short-video sharing applications, is owned by ByteDance a Chinese technology company. In 2021, Android phone users around the world spent 16.2 trillion minutes on TikTok. While those users probably had fun consuming silly videos, they also generated an enormous amount of data. 

This type of data collection is not novel; however, in TikTok's case the question is where does the data go and who has access to it and what is TikTok or ByteDance doing with that data.

  • In February 2019, TikTok was fined $5.7 million by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for allegedly knowingly collecting personal information from children under the age of 13 without parental consent. 
  • In June 2020, India banned TikTok in response to concerns about data security and privacy, and that the app was "prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India."
  • In February 2021, ByteDance agreed to a $92 million settlement in a class action lawsuit that alleged the company had violated state and federal privacy laws by collecting and using users' biometric data without consent. 
  • In late 2022, TikTok confirmed to its European users that their data can be accessed by employees outside the continent, including in China.

French President Emmanuel Macron has called TikTok "deceptively innocent" and a cause of "real addiction" among users, as well as a source of Russian disinformation. U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner Brendan Carr called TikTok “a sophisticated surveillance tool” and has worries that China could use sensitive and non-public data gleaned from the social media app for “blackmail, espionage, foreign influence campaigns and surveillance.”

The real danger of TikTok is that the Chinese government could use the massive amounts of data collected from TikTok users to train their machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms that can spread dangerously effective propaganda about the failings of the United States and the greatness of China. 

The former CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey and its current CEO Elon Musk look positively nonpartisan next to Chinese President Xi Jinping. This is the battlefield of the 21st century. The potential for AI technology to be used to manipulate and control individuals and to have a negative impact on democracy is great. We'd do well to prepare ourselves now.

How We Can Prepare for the Future with AI?

We are already in the Age of Artificial Intelligence whether we recognize it or not. While discoveries in this field are going to continue, we are in a period of rapid adoption and use which means we need to be determining the ethical standards by which this implementation should evolve.

Ethics seems like an old-timey word to be using with the latest cutting edge technology but doing what's right according to a set of moral principles or values is what we need right now. 

First, we need elected officials who are tech literate. We need legislators who use these technologies and are going to live in the future their policies are trying to shape. 

Second, we need to codify into law who owns the fuel powering AI - data. Anything you do in your digital world is yours. You get to decide what happens with your data and who gets to use it. We have gone too long without codifying this principle into law.

Third, Congress should confirm that all AI tools must follow the law just like you and I do. There should be no special carve outs like social media got in its infancy from having to follow some of the same rules applied to newspapers and TV stations.

Fourth, instead of focusing on banning books and digital tools in the classroom, we need to make sure our future generations are getting schooled in the basics of this technology -- coding and data science -- as early as possible.

We can take advantage of this technology to uplift humanity rather than have this technology take advantage of us and create some dystopian future. We just can't be dummies.

Note: Will Hurd is a member of the board of directors for OpenAI.

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