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  • Writer's pictureChristoph Auer-Welsbach

Welcome to the World of A.I.

Artificial Intelligence is all too often associated only with futuristic technologies seen in movies or in the news. Yet what many people don’t realize is that technology disruptions have already been influencing our daily lives for more than a decade!

News on Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Technologies now surrounds us on a daily basis — making these topics more accessible, and not just for the techies among us.

What is A.I. really about?

Artificial Intelligence is the theory and development of computer systems that normally require human intelligence. These days A.I. is also buzz word that contains any technology achieving intelligent systems. ‘Cognitive’ technologies — designed to simulate human thought — are organized into Cognitive Systems. They make use of Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing to enable humans to interact more naturally with machines, with the aim of enhancing and scaling human expertise.

The simulation of human thought processes has been implemented in a variety of consumer and business applications that millions — even billions — of people are using on a daily basis. Consider these examples:

  • Search engines like Google analyze user behavior to suggest potentially relevant information;

  • E-commerce stores like Amazon recommend potentially interesting products to customers;

  • Social networks like Facebook suggest friends we might want to add;

  • Apple’s Siri uses Natural Language Processing and Speech Recognition to convert speech into text and make sense of what the user is saying;

  • Even in the medical field, IBM Watson is already seen as one of the world’s best diagnosticians by using machine learning and computer vision, among others technologies.

These days, also startups are using a variety of cognitive technologies like machine learning or speech recognition to offer us, as their target audience, a new set of services. Magic and Operator are two startups that are able to deliver a new user experience by interacting with their users through a single messaging screen, giving users the feeling of engaging with a personal assistant rather than just a ‘regular’ app. Add: Just have a look at Watson’s Application Starter Kit for a Conversational Agent, or Facebook’s announcement on the launch of a bot platform for its Messenger.

The big technology companies like IBM or Facebook offer infrastructure software and hardware as a service. Also startups like PredictionIO (acquired by Salesfore), Diffbot, Nervana, or Fuzzy enable others to make use of this game-changing technology to offer a completely new experience of products and services to users and customers.

The technology has sky rocketed in the past 2 years. Why?

The short answer to this question: humans are limited in the amount of information they can process. And there is a tremendous of information, or data, out there, from emails, photos and videos to posts in various social networks, documents, etc.

While data creation is nothing new, an impressive 90% of the world’s data has been created in the past 2 years alone! Domo, a BI and data visualization company, analyzed that every minute 350,000 tweets are sent, more than 4.2 million posts are liked and 300 hours of videos are uploaded. In this way, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every single day. Today, companies like Facebook have already collected more than 1,000 terabyte of data. This is the equivalent of 1,048,576,000 MB or — to add a bit of nostalgia — 728,177,777 of those good, old Floppy Disks.

Not only does this generate massive amounts of data, but also 80% of this is unstructured and therefore practically unusable for humans. Examples of unstructured data include scientific data (atmospheric data), photos and videos (from traffic and surveillance cameras), company data (documents, emails and logs), and social media data (from platforms like Twitter, YouTube, Flickr).

In order to analyze and make predictions, information must be screened for patterns and anomalies. Cognitive Systems using technologies like Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing are highly capable of screening this information, analyzing it, and putting it into context. This requires computing systems that are not only able to simulate human thought processes, but also to learn independently. That way cognitive technologies can enhance and scale human expertise leading to greater advancements in human history than ever before.

The future is in our hands, isn’t it?

We are currently at the beginning of a revolution. Some call it the robot revolution — following the industrial revolution in the 19th century and the information revolution in the 21st century. Revolutions are typically a sign of big advancements in human history that offer exciting opportunities, but are also typically accompanied by anxiety and skepticism.

Apprehension is understandable when looking at the number of articles about robots and military applications that predict machines — often malicious to mankind — taking over the world. Movies like The Terminator (as an Austrian I am obliged to mention this one) or The Matrix show us a dark future, although always with a happy ending, thanks to Hollywood. In comparison, movies like Back to the Future look into a far brighter future, where technology is used to make life more fun and healthier, teaching us to take the outcome into our own hands. One great advantage of the revolution of today is the Internet enabling us to inform and educate ourselves, communicate with others instantly, and actively take part in such a disruptive time.

One thing that this revolution has in common with its predecessors is the fact that every revolution has an immense impact on our societal systems and ethical principles. If we are not aware of this technology’s impact and do not participate proactively in the coming years to develop it in the right direction, we won’t be able to ensure the kind of future we want for our children.

In the past months, famous technologists like Elon Musk, Stephan Hawking or Bill Gates have set up organizations and projects like the Future of Life Institute and OpenAI, making sure that these technology advancements will help shape our world for the better.

Finishing up with the words of Thomas Watson Jr.:

“Our machines should be nothing more than tools for extending the powers of the human beings who use them.”


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