Artificial intelligence seems to many less an issue for business and more for science fiction writers. There’s HAL 9000, anxiously asking Dave what he’s doing in 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are the robot overlords of The Matrix, overtaking humans in intelligence and using them as their batteries.
It’s worth saying that the wildest fears of science fiction may be over-egging the pudding: many technologists, like Tom Chatfield [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/18/artificial-intelligence-humans-computers], argue that it would be simple enough to engineer the systems in which AIs operate in such a way that they would not outgrow them and take over our own.
Indeed, artificial intelligence is with us right now, managing systems with specific purposes that can provide concrete benefit. AI is not some futuristic fancy (although its inevitable triumph over mere humans may well be); it’s a tool we can use today.
Fundamentally, AI is simply a term for a computer program able to extrapolate appropriately from a set of data. Take Amazon’s new Machine Learning product, a cloud service that enables companies to build predictive models from statistics they gather. The models are limited to certain questions: predicting the most likelihood of three or more potential outcomes, for instance, or arriving at an accurate model for the volume of a particular product the company should stock. But it’s still artificial intelligence.
Google Translate is another good example of AI businesses can make use of today: we’re so used to using it that we don’t think of it as artificial intelligence at all, but in understanding natural language, in learning from mistakes and reasoning from context, Translate is absolutely a form of AI. Like Machine Learning it is limited to specific tasks within set parameters – but that doesn’t make it any less intelligent in those spheres.
In other words, business may not yet have an answer to Star Trek’s Lieutenant Commander Data … but they have access to AI nevertheless.
Even coders like me aren’t immune. As this article at Primary Objects [http://www.primaryobjects.com/2013/01/27/using-artificial-intelligence-to-write-self-modifying-improving-programs/] shows, an AI which could develop an entire website is (thankfully for me!) a long way away; but it isn’t impossible, and is likely in one form or another inevitable. Indeed, as computers become more numerous and ever faster, and more and more connected to others, they will become increasingly able to access the cloud and Big Data to take on more and more functions.
That poses real opportunities for business – and it’s worth keeping on top of how AI can help you today and tomorrow. Help is the operative word: that programme at Primary Objects took 6,057,200 generations and ten hours to say “I love all humans”. AI isn’t HAL 9000 – for now at least, it’s here to help.