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We live in a world of “smart” objects; Smart phones, watches, cars are increasingly becoming the norm. But while the term “smart” originally referred more to the additional features in these devices than their cognitive abilities, that’s beginning to change.
Before we get started, what is Artificial Intelligence (AI)? In its most broad definition, AI refers to computer programs designed to perform complex tasks that have historically required human intelligence. This could be anything from speech recognition and decision-making to visual perception. While the grand dream of AI that meets or exceeds human capabilities in every area, companies like Google and Facebook are working to assure the present and future of AI will be very practical.
A Smarter Mobile Experience
Even with status updates and selfies, texting is still the dominant usage for cell phones. And yet, up until now, messaging apps have remained relatively basic. But a new messaging app called Emu seeks to make texting more effective. Essentially, the app comes with a built in assistant that feeds you relevant information based on the conversations you’re having. This is meant to save you from always copying and pasting information, or constantly switching back and forth between other apps to perform basic tasks.
By now, most of us are familiar with Apple’s mobile assistant, Siri, built into the most recent models of the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The groundbreaking service allows users to ask questions, search the web and set reminders all by asking Siri to do it for them. Now, Microsoft is looking to challenge Apple with an assistant of its own. Cortana, named after the AI in the popular videogame Halo, was specifically designed to get smarter the more people use it. Microsoft is hoping that speaking with Cortana will be almost like speaking with a real person. Users will be able to have follow-up conversations and if Cortana makes a mistake, it’ll learn and adapt, offering more specific and accurate services later on. And Cortana is hardly the endgame for Microsoft in terms of artificial intelligence, as you’ll see below.
Advanced Photo Recognition
Whether your grandparents like it or not, social media is here to stay. And while new platforms are constantly being rolled out to appeal to niche markets, the older, more established titans are looking for innovative ways to make their services even better.
Facebook isn’t just in the business of “likes” and “shares.” It employs a surprisingly large number of AI researchers, some of whom are working on creating a facial recognition software even more accurate at matching people’s faces than humans are. Facebook’s face-processing software, called DeepFace, performs a process called facial verification. It doesn’t match names to faces, but rather, recognizes when two images show the same face. Soon, you’ll quickly be able to upload a photo, and have Facebook realize who needs to be tagged.
At the same time (though with a slightly different end goal,) Google is working on a similar project. Instead of face-processing, Google is working on a software that accurately describes in complete sentences the scenes in photos.
For example, if you take a few pictures at the zoo, the software will differentiate between the lions, tigers and bears. The descriptions would read something like “A bear sleeps on its back” and “two lions are playing under a tree.” This represents a revolutionary fusion of natural language and machine vision capabilities, and is a potent sign of things to come. Machines that can truly understand the contents of images and video and speak naturally about them are powerful tools to make the world accessible to machine intelligence via our smartphone cameras. It’s an incredible step forward for artificial intelligence, and one that could prove fundamental for future AI efforts.
Machine Learning in Computer Search and Beyond
But artificial intelligence doesn’t end with mobile and social media. There are endless opportunities for AI to make our devices smarter and our lives easier. These include safer robots that provide unbiased security for humans and advanced programs that offer smarter, better network security for businesses. It can even be more basic, like improving search results.
Again we turn to Google, who is looking to advance their search function with AI software. For years, Google has been using machine learning to understand queries and provide better results. Now, Google is looking to incorporate deep learning to usher in the next era of search.
While all of these advancements show tremendous potential, there are still those with concerns. Perhaps the most vocal among them is Elon Musk, whose concern over the future of AI has been well documented. He recently donated $10 million to support research aimed at keeping AI beneficial to humanity, fearing that unchecked advancements artificial intelligence could be likened to summoning the devil.
“I’m increasingly inclined to think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish.” -Elon Musk
Despite these risks, Musk and several high profile executives from Google, Microsoft, Facebook have added their names to the list of those still committed to future of AI. The benefits, in other words, outweigh the long-term risks. These people are passionate about building programs and machines that will further technology and enhance our lives like never before. And though we don’t know exactly when the future of AI will arrive in earnest, humanity is taking steps in that direction each and every day.
Image Credit: iphone 6 Plus Elon Musk Wallpaper by Bill Brooks via Flickr, Brand Recognition by Mike Knell via Flickr, Nokia Lumia 635 Cortana Helping by Bhupinder Nayyar via Flickr