AI. Artificial intelligence. No longer is AI the domain of science fiction, it's a real thing out there in the world that's being used more and more in a huge variety of applications. But what is AI, exactly? Does it really just mean computers that can think like humans, or is there something else going on?
Not to worry, because in this article, we'll tell you the basics of what you need to know about AI, how it works, and what it's used for.
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What Is AI?
To start off, this is going to be an oversimplification, but either way, if you don't really know what AI is, this will help you arrive at a broad understanding.
So, for thousands and thousands of years, humans have used tools. It started off with stuff like fire and the wheel, and eventually, we started building computers. Computers are just really advanced tools.
They require human operation and input, and humans designed them to help other humans solve complicated problems that would otherwise be too difficult or too inefficient to solve by themselves. Like a calculator or any other number of useful tools you use in your everyday life.
AI, though, is fundamentally different. AIs are, of course, built by humans, but an AI has actual intelligence much more similar to the likes of what human beings have. An AI can learn, it can identify patterns, and it can solve complex problems, and once created, it can do all that without direct human operation in the way that humans directly operate a computer or a calculator.
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However, AI (right now) isn't like the sentient computers you see in science fiction just yet, and there's a pretty big difference between something like AI and a concept like machine learning. Machine learning is a whole other topic, but it's important to understand the basic difference between the two.
To put it simply, AI in general relies on machine learning, but not all machine learning is AI. Machine learning, in the abstract, refers to the capacity for a machine to learn and iterate upon itself. This may sound complicated, but in practical use, it's actually a lot more approachable.
Think about Netflix and your watch recommendations. These recommendations are specific to you and are based on what you've watched before, but there isn't an AI at play there. Rather, Netflix uses machine learning to generate those recommendations.
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In short, imagine Netflix has a complicated algorithm designed to spit out recommendations if you input watch history. Via machine learning, this algorithm can get more effective over time as it gets more information on what you watch and which content you give a thumbs up. It can recognize patterns and learn, in a sense, but it's more like a complicated, ever-changing math problem than it is actually artificial intelligence.
Is Actual AI Out Now?
This is a more complicated question. There are lots of services and companies using AI and machine learning to accomplish impressive things.
Whether it's deepfaked content or talking with ChatGPT, among many others, AI and machine learning are very much out in the world right now, being used. However, it's worth thinking of AI as a spectrum and not necessarily as something we do or don't have or is or isn't used.
What does that mean? Well, if you think about science fiction, AI essentially just means a sentient machine. A machine capable of feeling, thinking, and acting in essentially all the same ways a human can and does. AI of this sort, truly sentient AI, isn't really something that exists in the here and now.
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It seems to be the case that, one day, we will be able to create something like that, but in the current moment, that's largely speculation. Plus, the creation of truly sentient artificial intelligence won't be some small development you may not hear about, either. If that does come into existence, it will almost certainly change the world as much (if not more) than the cell phone.
However, right now, AI is less complicated and not as advanced as that. Though, that doesn't mean that AI isn't involved in our lives already. Look at a service like ChatGPT, which is an AI chatbot system relying on machine learning to converse believably as if it were a human.
This means you can have an actual conversation with ChatGPT about, essentially, any topic, and it will listen to what you're saying, follow along, and be able to respond to what you've said. It can also access tons of different information out there in the world it can incorporate into its conversations, too.
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While pretty amazing a thing like that exists, it's important to realize that a service like ChatGPT isn't sentient. It's not the same as talking to a human, it doesn't have emotions and thoughts of its own, but it is very much a believable representation of what it's like to talk to a human.
The fine distinction between true artificial intelligence and machine learning (as well as other tech) isn't necessarily that important to decipher yourself, but it's worth understanding that the AI that's out right now is extremely early on in the development of AI in general, and we still have a ways to go before AI is actually sentient in the sense of science fiction.