Despite being the subject of countless books and films, artificial intelligence (AI) remains an esoteric, often misunderstood subject for the general public. This comes as no surprise, as the technology is still nascent and has some ways to go before maturing into a reliable, mission-critical fixture of our daily lives. The following are 13 things you need to know in order understand the present state and future of AI.
13. AI’s roots reach far back in human history.
For most of us, AI evokes images of automatons that can think and reason like people. As it turns out, these notions are based in antiquity: Greek gods such as Hephaestus often were assisted by brilliant robots designed to do their bidding.
12. Formal AI research began in the 1950s.
AI first became the subject of formal scholarly research at the The Dartmouth Conference of 1956. During the conference, terms such as “counterfeit consciousness” were introduced by AI thought leaders like John McCarthy.
11. Natural language processing is a cornerstone of AI technology.
One of the more formidable challenges in AI research is getting computers to understand different human languages. Developments in this field—known as natural language processing (NLP)—are constantly improving the ability of computers to understand natural languages.
10. AI will first be broadly commercialized in autonomous vehicles.
The advent of autonomous vehicles has spurred AI research in the automobile and transportation industries. And the technology is getting quite good: in February 2016, Google’s artificial intelligence became the first non-human to qualify as a driver in the U.S.
9. Venture capital funding is driving much the current innovation in AI.
AI startups have raised a total of $967 million in venture capital funding since 2010, with projects focusing on business intelligence, e-commerce, and healthcare, among others. Sentient Technologies—one such high flying upstart—has managed to raise more than $100 million in financing after only a couple of years in operation.
8. Smaller AI companies will continue to be swallowed up by bigger tech players.
Most AI technologies will be acquired and integrated into a larger company’s offering. For example. Google acquired AI startup DeepMind for $500 million in 2014, while Facebook made its own AI investment by picking up Wit.ai in January 2015.
7. AI-controlled robots can think together.
The CoCoRo (Collective Cognitive Robotics) Project in Europe has created robots with counterfeit collective consciousness that can synchronize like a school of fish. The robots can seek a range, sweep the earth, and send data amongst each other.
6. A few AIs can read your facial and body expressions.
According to MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, its Kismet sociable AI “is an expressive robotic creature with perceptual and motor modalities tailored to natural human communication channels.” In other words, it can read humans and communicate with humans, sans speech.
5. AI is a polarizing subject among technology experts, scholars, and philosophers.
Despite its promise, AI has been approached cautiously by more than a few notable authorities on computing. For example, Elon Musk and Bill Gates among others have both voiced their apprehension towards AI.
4. Developments in AI are accelerating exponentially.
Humans tend to think in linear terms—computers, not so much. AI advancement is quickening, a phenomenon that prominent futurist Ray Kurzweil termed the “Law of Accelerating Returns.” In fact, Kurzweil posits that a measure of advancement equal to the whole twentieth century’s innovations was achieved sometime between 2000 and 2014, with this same phenomenon occurring again before 2021. Understanding exponential advancement is key to appreciating the speed in which AI technologies will advance.
3. AI will take the guesswork out of saving lives.
Administering medical care is still very much a manual, error-prone process—for example, physicians often lack critical details to properly diagnose individuals and rely heavily on information sourced from patients. In the future, quick-thinking AIs will unobtrusively and objectively treat patients with a greater degree of accuracy than their human counterparts.
2. 2020 is the year that AIs take the wheel on a massive scale.
Most analysts watching the burgeoning AI and autonomous vehicle space agree that 2020 will be the year that fully-autonomous cars will hit the road on a commercial scale.
1. The Singularity is the event that everyone involved in AI anticipates/fears the most.
Another Futurist concept courtesy of Ray Kurzweil, the Singularity is defined as the inevitable point in the future where technology progresses so rapidly that it surpasses humanity’s ability to understand and control it. Good robot/bad robot discussions usually involve the Singularity, even if not expressly in those terms.
Kurzweil predicts that the Singularity will befall humankind in the year 2045. Self-driving vehicles and online shopping assistants are just the beginning; the next wave of innovations will involve AI-assisted healthcare and scientific research, among others. Whether humans are ready for it or not, AI is here to stay.