Stop Fixating on the 'Artificial' in AI Because It's Actually an Evolution of Our Own Intelligence
Systems that work alongside human intellect will make the most of technology to improve lives, safety and performance.
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Like many people, I feel apprehension whenever I hear or read the phrase "artificial intelligence."
The expression often evokes images of the Terminator coming to exterminate people -- or take their jobs. For me, it's the "artificial" aspect that bestows the phrase with the character of something cold, alien and unsympathetic to human concerns and frailties.
However, firsthand experience has taught me there's nothing artificial about intelligence. AI is real. It's just part of a continuum of intelligence that's now coming to machines. In practice, AI is an extension of human intelligence that's guided by people.
Far from spelling your doom, AI is more likely to save your life. Its applications can help stop a skyjacker or halt the spread of an epidemic, for example. I've personally observed AI's very real and very human side in the excited faces of high-school students who have developed their own AI apps. It's part of the reason I believe people will gain an understanding and acceptance of the technology as they encounter AI applications that positively effect their lives.
Scaling human intelligence.
AI performs tasks that traditionally have been the exclusive realm of human intelligence, such as monitoring surveillance videos or transcribing teleconferences. Essentially, AI-enabled machines apply humankind's intelligence on a scale and speed that transcends the limitations of the biological mind. While this sometimes means AI is replacing humans in certain jobs, it more often means that machines are working side-by-side with people for the greater benefit.
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Baggage scanning in airports offers a case study. Today's security systems employ human operators to manually review each bag scan. But after 15 minutes of looking at the baggage-scan display, human operators' attention levels can drop to zero. Small wonder, then, that U.S. Transportation Security Administration tests in 2015 revealed a 95 percent failure rate when attempting to detect weapons smuggled through airport-security checkpoints. The publicity surrounding the poor performance served only to demoralize and further degrade the effectiveness of TSA personnel.
A much better solution for these workers: an AI system that would ingest all images captured by the baggage-scanning system. This AI system would use object-recognition technology to identify anything that resembles a weapon or contraband. If anything is detected, the system would alert human operators to take a second look at the image.
Related: Can Artificial Intelligence Identify Pictures Better Than Humans?
Cooperating with 'natural' intellect.
In this way, AI intelligence works in cooperation with human intelligence, improving the efficiency and accuracy of a critical task. As a bonus, it spares people from the consequences of their all-too-human inadequacies.
What's more, such a system could be easily and cheaply created using current-generation cognitive-engine technology to develop an application that works with the baggage-scanning systems. All that's needed is an applications interface to give developers an easy way to access the best possible cognitive engine technology for the task at hand.
Related: AI Will Be a Partnership of Man and Machine, Says IBM's Rometty
With such an interface in place, I estimate this application development effort would require only two engineers and an investment of just $250,000.
As such applications become commonplace, the popular image of AI will begin to change. Applications will work in cooperation with people to address intractable problems such as terrorism, epidemics and human trafficking. And as people begin to see the positive results, AI will appear less alien and artificial. Instead, people will come to see as a natural extension of our intelligence -- a digital reflection of our own intellect that improves the lives of people everywhere.
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