"Over time, the computer itself — whatever its form factor — will be an intelligent assistant helping you through your day. We will move from mobile first to an AI first world” – says Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
Artificial Intelligence is the technology of the future that Google, IBM, Amazon and Microsoft have been investing in for years. It represents a future that could leave Apple behind if it takes off. But what exactly is Artificial Intelligence? Is it like those computers that beat Vishy Anand at chess? And if that’s the case, how exactly is it going to change my life?
Voice Assistants like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana or Google’s newly announced Assistant represent the tip of the iceberg where Artificial Intelligence is concerned. To be understood – and to trigger actions based on voice – is not as easy as it sounds, given the huge variety of languages, dialects, accents and individual pronunciations that exist on this planet. If we have made progress in this area, it is because of the increase in the global user base, which has made continuous learning and refinement possible.
But where AI can play a much bigger role is in handling the vast, unimaginable dump of data that has been generated across millions of websites, apps, social media sites and internet users, across the last decade or so when internet usage accelerated sharply.
IBM points out on its website that 90% of the world’s data was generated in the last two years, and 80% of that data is unstructured. Whether it is organisations seeking to organize and structure their own internal archives or a website seeking a deeper understanding of their own user data – Artificial Intelligence can help to make sense of it.
For example, IBM’s Watson Health has partnered with the American Diabetes Association to analyse clinical and research data and create apps that aid doctors in managing the disease. The partnership will give IBM access to 300,000 patient records and 66 years of data. The goal is to use this vast data dump to train Watson to understand diabetes and make data-driven recommendations. Watson Health is already working with Medtronic to build ‘cognitive apps’ that monitor blood sugar level and then automatically adjust the insulin dosage in insulin pumps.
Or take a recent development by the Accessibility Team at Facebook called Automatic Alternative Text – which will begin to ‘read out’ the content of photos to visually impaired users, by ‘seeing’ what they contain eg. Three people smiling. Across Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp, users upload nearly 2 billion photos everyday, and Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence division is building software that recognizes images automatically, using machine learning. The technology is still at an early stage – it can reliably identify concepts in certain categories like transportation, nature, sports, food and people. It can identify a pizza or a selfie, but not the detailing (eg. Pizza with olives and pepperoni). But it’s still a huge step forward, that Facebook can accurately categorise a range of photos with 80% confidence!
The more gimmicky side of AI has always fascinated people and created great sound bytes for media – Frankenstein Robots, participating in reality shows and beating real life contestants. Now, we also have creative AI - for example, a neural network wrote the screenplay for Sunspring, a sci-fi film that is ‘fascinatingly incoherent’. Meanwhile, Google’s Project Magenta aims to create art using AI – spanning music, videos and other visual arts. Google AI was used to write a (Rather creepy) love poem after reading 3500 romantic books; you can read the text here. One of the line goes like this;
However, the new age AI is moving away from gimmicks into a more hardworking space – making sense of complex data, answering more complex queries from that data, and learning to analyse patterns in a more human like, intuitive way. Also, the results of AI are actually directly impacting people’s lives rather than being utilized only at an institutional level. Mobile apps represent a way in which the benefits of AI can literally reach people’s pockets today. We don’t need to read about it, or watch it on TV. We can actually experience it – like the visually impaired people who can now ‘hear’ Facebook photos!