Artificial Intelligence is Here


Artificial Intelligence is Here: Siri, Cortana and Google Now

Computers can now do things that even just a few years ago were considered solely the stuff of science fiction. And, as in so many other areas, the tech titans – Apple, Microsoft and Google – are fighting tooth and nail to dominate the newest high-growth, transformative areas of tech. One such area is artificial intelligence (AI) powered personal assistants. All three companies have software that now competes in this space. Apple has introduced the Siri personal assistant, Microsoft has Cortana and Google offers Google Now. The technology is still in its early stages but it is already exciting to see glimpses of a very dramatic future where computers are likely to be much smaller and lighter than they are now and where people can interact with them without need of a keyboard or a screen. Computers embedded in clothing and other wearables – especially those with an active Internet connection – will make some pretty amazing things possible in just a few years.


DARPA and the Future of AI

While all of this AI personal assistant business feels pretty cutting-edge, it is actually a long time coming. Most people of a certain age can remember the computer HAL from 2001, A Space Odyssey. People have been dreaming about AI assistants for a very long time! Apple’s Siri system has been out since 2010 and the predecessor company was acquired by Apple a few years before that. The modern basis of AI personal assistants was established, perhaps surprisingly, in a program funded by the US Department of Defense. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with an annual budget of almost $3 billion, is tasked with carrying out important technological development projects that could make a contribution to national defense. About 15 years ago, DARPA funded a project called PAL – the “personalized Assitant that Learns.” The PAL system was intended to be able to handle automated data retrieval and data synthesis – essentially taking the search engine to an entirely new level. Two of the key concepts of the PAL program that have carried over into all of the current AI personal assistants are first, that the software should learn over time to be able to access Internet content and then put it together I  useful ways for the user and, second, that the software should actually learn from the user and become better and better able to anticipate his or her needs and respond to them.


The AI Personal Assistant and the Future

In thinking about the future of mobile computing, what is truly exciting is to imagine how the software and the hardware are evolving together to make powerful applications possible. While computing power continues to increase geometrically and while the size and weight required for the computer power drops, the weak link has always been the interface between human and machine. Humans have typically interacted with computers by typing their instructions and reading the responses from a screen. Because of limitations of human physiology, computer relying on this kind of interface can only be made so small. But microphones and speakers have already been miniaturized to a great degree. Now with software that makes oral/auditory interface possible, the size limitations are resolved. Not only is this great news for the vast majority of computer users, it is also good news for the visually and physically impaired who in the future will be able to interact with computers just like anybody else. When you add into the scenario universal Internet access and software that is increasingly powerful at anticipating the information required by a user, collecting the useful information from an ever broader, deeper Internet and synthesizing the information in useful ways, the results of that kind of technology are truly amazing.


The things that today’s AI personal assistant can do are just the tip of the iceberg. In just a very few short years, true Internet-enabled AI will be widely available from your eyeglasses, your wristwatch or your sport coat. Get ready for a wild ride!

Artificial Intelligence: A Blessing or a Curse?

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the intelligence exhibited by machines or software.


Artificial Intelligence: A Blessing or a Curse?


Imagine if engineers could build a super-hot robot that can guess what you’re thinking and then meet all your needs before you even ask? A domestic service robot that can bring you an ice-cold beer after a long day at work might be just a little ways down the road, but computer-based Artifical Intelligence (AI) software that anticipates your needs is already here. AI is simply software that learns from your patterns of use. There are concepts for AI that can be pretty complex. But some very simple forms of AI have already been around for a while. You might not think of it as AI, but the spell-check on your iPhone is the beginning of the development path toward very sophisticated AI.  Virtual personal assistant software like Siri from Mac, Cortana from Microsoft and GoogleNow are the next step down that road. Where might the AI road take us as a society? Some pretty powerful, intelligent people have been wondering very publicly whether eventually AI-empowered computers will become our merciless overlords instead of docile servants. It seems that two visions of the future of AI are coming into focus: one, an idyllic scene of friendly computers that help us; and the other, a dystopic nightmare of autonomous killers.


“Autonomous Weapons” – Killer Robots on the Loose?

An autonomous weapon is a specific application of AI software joined with military hardware that can “select and engage targets without human intervention.” Recently, some of the most prominent thinkers in the fields of science, engineering and information technology issued a letter warning the world about the coming danger of autonomous weapons. Signatories to the letter included Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak among many other tech luminaries. The letter warns that autonomous weapons will be feasible “within years, not decades.” The global risk is of a widespread arms race and general proliferation of autonomous weapons. The letter warns that autonomous weapons, unlike nuclear weapons, will be relatively cheap to produce and do not require “costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials.” These autonomous weapons could get up to some very bad behavior: “Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.” The letter concludes by advocating a global ban on autonomous weapons, preserving AI research and development for peaceful uses.


Siri, Cortana and GoogleNow: An Exciting Future

The future of AI need not be so gloomy, though. Major tech companies are cooking up some very exciting projects that will eventually make a huge beneficial impact for ordinary people. These days, it is already possible to use a virtual personal assistant to make dinner reservations, plot a trip on the highway, write an email – all with your voice alone. The AI software that powers these applications is growing more sophisticated and more intuitive all the time, making it ever easier to do what you want to do with your computer. The truly exciting thing to think about is the interaction of the AI software that powers the virtual assistant and the computer’s hardware. Verbal commands and auditory response are making the interface with a computer more mobile and more flexible. Screens and keyboards are becoming obsolete. Combine this with the increasing miniaturization of hardware and “wearable devices” start to look truly game-changing! There are exciting things you can be doing with a virtual personal assistant right now. If you’re curious about the possibilities, contact us.