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What is Artificial Intelligence?

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

Written by Dr. Christine Izuakor for Veriato, a cybersecurity company

Artificial intelligence (AI) is used all around us and if you’ve used some sort of voice activated technology to make your life easier, then there was likely some element of AI involved. Some of the most notable examples include Siri, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Tesla semi-autonomous vehicles. Individual consumers no longer have to fumble around in the dark to flip the light switch at home, manually search playlists for songs, or type in a password to get into smartphones. Similarly, businesses can now analyze millions of data records and find trends that can help them predict things like when their assets may require maintenance or what purchasing decisions customers are likely to make. Thanks to AI, there are automation and optimization solutions for almost everything – including some of our most significant technical challenges. No matter which way you view it, AI is changing the way we operate.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence is an umbrella term that is often used to describe the evolution of “smart” technology. To better understand the concept, consider the literal definitions of the words. According to Merriam Webster, the term artificial is used to describe things that are humanly contrived often on a natural model. Intelligence is defined as the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment. When combined and applied to technology, it means enabling systems to mimic the natural human model of thinking and apply knowledge to manipulate an environment.

How Does Artificial Intelligence Work?

According to Research & Development Magazine, the broad term can be categorized into four groups: reactive machines, limited memory, theory of mind, and self-awareness. Each kind introduces varying levels of functionality and complexity.

  1. Reactive systems can respond to requests, act resiliently when faced with failure, achieve elasticity under varying workloads, and rely on asynchronous messaging to bring it all together. They do not operate based on prior events and don’t improve over time. IBM’s Deep Blue technology, known for beating an infamous chess player, is an example of this kind of AI.

  2. Limited memory systems can briefly retain information from prior events and use observations to make decisions or take action. Self-driving cars and virtual assistants, like Amazon Alexa, are examples where this kind of AI is frequently used.

  3. Theory of mind and self-awareness systems are said to be aspirational and aim to replicate emotions, beliefs, memories, and human consciousness that then drive behavior.

How is Artificial Intelligence Applied?

Artificial intelligence can be applied through a variety of methods. Machine learning, for example, leverages data and patterns to replicate human behavior with limited human direction. The machine can learn from those transactions and adapt responses. This is one of the most popular types of AI. The terms artificial intelligence and machine learning are sometimes used interchangeably though one is a subset of the other. Machine learning can be applied in three modes: supervised, unsupervised, or reinforcement models.

In unsupervised models, the machines require input and training to function correctly. Linear or polynomial regression analysis, decision trees, classification models and other methods are applied to train the machine to make predictions and operate dynamically. Unsupervised machine learning can self-teach and learn independently through clustering, association analysis, and other models. For instance, if thousands of images of bananas, apples, and strawberries were presented to this model, based on patterns the machine can create three different groups representing each fruit type. While it may not be able to automatically understand what the items are or label the groups, it’s smart enough to notice the similarity and group them without much prior training. Supervised machine learning applications would require more direction on what grouping scheme to follow, whereas unsupervised would not. Lastly, reinforcement models are based on a reward system. The machine is rewarded or penalized with points for correct or incorrect answers. Based on the positive reward points gained, the model prepares to predict new data it’s presented with.

Robotics, a closely related AI form, builds smart machines that deliver often physically demanding tasks humans are unable to complete consistently. Natural language processing and vision AI technologies enable machines to speak and see. The autonomous vehicle domain enables self-operating transportation in the form of cars, drones, trains and more. These technologies have infiltrated most industries with profound advancements made in transportation, manufacturing, education, healthcare, cybersecurity, and more.

What Are Some Benefits of Leveraging Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence has proven to provide benefits across numerous use cases. To everyday consumers, the most visible benefit tends to be convenience. Being able to talk to your device instead of typing, having a personal driver chauffeur you around in your smart car, walking into stores that recognize your face and personalize your shopping experience – these are all examples where consumers are benefiting from the convenience that artificial intelligence enables. For businesses and other entities, benefits span well beyond convenience. Artificial intelligence is enabling strategic transformations in business. Illustratively, it’s delivering more efficient operations models, enabling more accurate demand forecasting and inventory management, detecting and mitigating cyber risks, strengthening predictive maintenance capabilities, and much more. It’s also increasing the productivity of people. This new-found level of resource optimization is freeing up time that smart human beings can now apply to the problems machines are not yet able to solve.

Ultimately, and with good reason, there has been a considerable amount of buzz around AI in the last few years. It’s infiltrating every industry and transforming the way consumers and businesses operate. Artificial intelligence is materializing capabilities that our ancestors once attributed to outlandish and Sci-Fi films. It’s apparent that the future is now.

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