Artificial intelligence, or AI, has become a commonly used buzz word in the past few years. When I talk about AI with friends and family, the first thought that comes to everyone’s mind is SkyNet from the Terminator franchise. While Terminator is an iconic movie, it is not about AI, it is about AGI – the G is for General (more about that later). Today, AGI is still science fiction, despite all of the computer power and progress in the field. With that said, we are witnessing the integration of different AI’s (no G) into our lives, whether its personal assistants like Siri, Alexa, Google assistant or even my Gmail’s autocompleting feature that knows how to finish my sente*(hit tab)*ces. The main point to understand is that, like all of the revolutions that came before it, the AI revolution is inevitable and aims at improving our lives.
AI is not what you think it is
Let’s start with the basics – What is AI?
Plainly, AI is a branch of computer science that focuses on creating a machine or computer that can perceive its environment (with a camera or microphone for example) and take action that maximizes its chance of successfully achieving its goals.
What is AGI ?
AGI is artificial intelligence of a machine that is able to learn, understand and act like a human (Terminator style).
The first thing you should know about the progress of AI is that on a scale from (1) the very first computer ENIAC to (10) SkyNet , I would say we are at around 5 or 6. Personal assisting technology is a good example for that. It is readily available but its limitations are a well-known fact (‘hey google, when is my wife’s birthday?’). These assistant technologies rely on AI to do natural language processing and use machine learning to understand what users are saying in order to give information or make suggestions. While I love asking my assistant to tell me the weather or to add something to my shopping list, its functions as an assistant are still very limited.
AI is on the rise
The second things to know is the rate of advance in AI is fast and accelerating but we have a long way to go. Tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple are investing bucketloads of money into research in this field because they understand the market potential. Each has its own dedicated research center (FAIR, DeepMind, etc.) that employs top-level academics. Sometimes it feels like they are in a competition – who can employ more professors?
An Additional major investors in AI are car manufacturers. They are on a journey to fulfil the prophecy of a fully autonomous car. Who wouldn’t want to buy a car that drives itself? I would personally settle for one that just parks itself. A few years ago, it seemed that autonomous cars are right around the corner with major players like Tesla, Uber, and Waymo, but today everyone is facing the harsh reality that it may take a few more years (5? 10? 15?). These are major driving forces that accelerate advances in AI.
AI is a wise career choice
The final thing to know is that it is a profitable field to get into as a career choice. Just know that even though it is flashy and has a lot of bells and whistles, it mainly requires all of the ‘old-school’ background knowledge in math, statistics, and computer science. If an academic institute offers a degree in AI it is just wrapping a nice bow around these topics. The nice thing about AI is that it is one of the topics that has the most freely accessible materials online. I even wrote another blog post about how to make your first steps in AI a while ago. All you need is a computer and an internet connection to create your first AI. I am not suggesting that online resources can completely replace an academic degree, I am just pointing out that you don’t need to spend your time and money enrolling anywhere just to see if it is for you.
There are a lot of other buzz words like “deep learning” and “neural networks” that are used interchangeably with AI. The important thing to remember is that all of them essentially refer to the same question:
How can we make a computer understand and make an informed decision?