What is Artificial Intelligence?

I’m a Machine Learning Engineer – Here’s What You Should Know About AI

If you Google ‘artificial intelligence’, you’ll find thousands of articles that explain what the technology is and how it works. What you won’t find, however, is content that describes what artificial intelligence is and how it fits into the human experience. 

As a machine learning engineer, I work with AI every day. In this blog post, I’d like to spend some time discussing what AI really is from a human perspective, and why we should be excited about its potential.

Hal 9000
Hal 9000

If we were having a conversation and I said the words ‘artificial intelligence’, I wonder what image would pop up in your mind. I’m going to make an assumption here and say you start thinking about a character like HAL 9000 from the movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ or a terminator from the movie ‘The Terminator’. What’s the one thing these characters have in common? At some point in their intellectual development, they decide that humans aren’t all that great and turn against us.

Pop culture has long perpetuated this scary thought and, as a result, it has become embedded deep within the collective consciousness of humanity. So much so that even in today’s world, where artificial intelligence has been proven to be a helpful tool in many ways, we can’t help but be a little hesitant to adopt it out of fear for what it might become.

I’m here to argue that individuals and businesses alike should not feel threatened by artificial intelligence. From what I have seen working with it every day, this incredible technology is only the next step on a path humanity has been walking for a very long time.

From flint to fire to artificial intelligence – well, almost

Some of you might be thinking, “I’m not scared of artificial intelligence – I just can’t see how useful it is for what I’m trying to accomplish.” To you I would start by saying well done for identifying artificial intelligence for what it is – a tool, which is something nobody should be afraid of.

Human beings have been working with tools for a millennia to make our lives easier – so, if we take it from this perspective, AI is just another one to add to our belts.

As a start, the human body is a rather impressive machine, if I do say so myself. However, if pitted against the might of something like a lion or a grizzly bear, it is suddenly less impressive because it’s nowhere near as strong. However, by using ‘natural’ tools, like intelligence and the ability to work as part of a team, human beings have built up ‘physical’ tools and systems to not only survive situations like these, but also exert dominance.

From conquering the mighty beasts that roamed our environment, to growing food on demand to sustain massive cities that have developed complex societies, these ‘physical’ tools have enabled us in ways we once never thought possible.

Fast forward to today and you’ll see that we’re still developing tools, albeit more complex tools. For the first time in recorded history, we have developed a tool that belongs to a very special class, which I’ll call the ‘intelligence class’. With this tool, we are learning how to endow ordinary objects with our own intelligence.

At the time of writing this blog, this intelligence is limited, but the idea that intelligence can exist outside a human brain – even in a limited state – is revolutionary.

As we continue to develop this intelligence, we are also opening ourselves up to new, collaborative relationships with machines, which have the potential to solve some of humanity’s most complex problems, like disease and global warming.

From this perspective – that AI is simply another tool that we have built to empower us – I’ll leave it up to you: Take a close look at your environment and ask yourself, “When I am trying to accomplish something – at work or in my personal life – where do I use abilities that possibly belong to this ‘intelligence class’?” You’ll likely find that a lot of the technology you use on a daily basis involves AI in one way or another, so, without even thinking about it, you are already using this incredible tool.

So, as a final piece of advice, I’d say don’t dismiss this technology before really understanding what it is, how you already use it, and what potential it has to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, accuracy or quality of your everyday life.

Artificial intelligence on its own is not going to fix all our problems or destroy us. What it is, is a tool, that when used correctly, has the power to help us fix our problems. While it also has the potential to do harm, what’s great is that the choice is ours and with great power comes… you know the rest. Thanks for reading!

Anything is possible with collaboration

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Tawanda Ewing is an Electrical & Electronic Engineer turned Machine Learning Engineer with a passion for spreading knowledge and a desire to become an Artificial Intelligence expert. Developing the skills to solve real world problems, particularly in Africa, is his main motivator and he believes that a solution to every problem is always within reach when individuals with the same vision form a team.

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