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What is Artificial Intelligence and what is it Capable of?

Artificial intelligence is repeatedly referred to as the technology of the future. But what exactly is it all about?

The term Artificial Intelligence (AI) was coined by John McCarthy, an American computer scientist, at the Dartmouth Conference in 1956, and many AI technologies have been around for over 50 years.

Briefly summarized, it is the ability of a machine to mimic human abilities such as reasoning, recognition, learning, planning, or even some creativity. However, these abilities don’t all have to occur for a solution to be called AI.

Whether it’s image recognition in photo apps, voice assistants, personalization of the latest smartphones, or recommendation systems from Netflix and Spotify, we already live with many AI services. Autonomous cars have also gone from being a barely imaginable vision to a tangible one.

Confusingly, however, many applications currently bear the label AI, even though they are “normal” automation. The most common example of this is simple, if A then B chatbots.

Examples of AI technologies

Automation is the process by which a system or procedure operates automatically. For example, an AI can be set up to perform repeatable tasks that were previously performed by humans.

Machine learning is the science of making a computer act without programming.

Pattern recognition is a subcategory of machine learning that focuses on identifying patterns in data.

Machine vision is the science of making computers “see.” Visual information is captured and analyzed using cameras, analog-to-digital conversion, and digital signal processing. It is used in a range of applications from signature identification to medical image analysis.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is the processing of human speech by a computer program. One of the oldest and most well-known applications in the field is spam detection for emails. However, current approaches are mostly based on machine learning. Tasks for NLP include text translation, sentiment analysis, and various speech recognition tools.

Robotics is a field of mechanical engineering that focuses on the design and manufacture of robots. They are often used to perform tasks that are difficult or impossible for humans to accomplish. Meanwhile, researchers are using machine learning to build robots that can interact in social environments, bringing them closer to traditional everyday life.

Types of artificial intelligence

Apart from the different areas of application, artificial intelligence can additionally be categorized in different ways.

The first type of classification distinguishes AI systems as weak or strong:
A “Weak AI” is a system that has been developed and trained for a specific task. Virtual personal assistants fall into this category.
A “Strong AI” is also known as general artificial intelligence and has cognitive capabilities. When confronted with an unknown task, it has enough intelligence to find a solution.

The second example comes from Arend Hintze, assistant professor of integrative biology and computer science at Michigan State University. He categorizes AI into four types:

Type 1: Reactive machines

One example is Deep Blue, the IBM chess program that defeated Garry Kasparov in the 1990s. The program can identify pieces on the chess board, analyze what is happening, make predictions and set moves. However, it has no “memory” and does not accumulate experience.

Type 2: Limited memory

These AI systems can use past experience to make future decisions. Decision-making functions in autonomous vehicles are largely designed this way.

Type 3: Native Theory

This psychological term refers to the understanding that other beings or machines have their own beliefs, desires, and intentions that influence decisions. However, as things stand today, such systems have not yet been developed.

Type 4: Self-awareness

In this category, AI systems have self-awareness. Machines with self-awareness understand their current state and can infer what others are feeling. These AI systems are also still in the future.

Both types of definitions help to better assess the actual capabilities of an AI. Especially the four types of artificial intelligence by Arend Hintze show well what is already possible today what is still in the field of research.

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