From the evocative images of Skynet, the ultimate antagonist of the Terminator franchise, to Ava in the British science-fiction film Ex Machina, AI is something humanity is fascinated by. But what is A.I.?

Today we’re gonna discuss artificial intelligence. I hope to help you gain a better understanding of this fascinating topic. You should read this if you find artificial intelligence as a concept fascinating, and a primer that will help you understand it a bit better. Just so the next time you’re at the water-cooler and someone starts talking about the latest science-fiction smash-hit you can be in on the chat.

A Basic Breakdown Of AI

In computer science artificial intelligence is sometimes known as machine intelligence because that’s what it is: the intelligence demonstrated by machines.

As a field of study, artificial intelligence traces its origins back to 1956, a mere 53 years ago. The history there is itself worth a whole article, but if it had to be summarized it’s had a history, not unlike many other academic fields of study. Rob Lopez, writer at Venture Lessons, explains that “It had periods of massive interest and support wherein academics and scholars were well-funded and backed and therefore able to conduct meaningful research. And then there were periods of less funding and less interest. These periods have been called, by some anyway, an “AI winter” and that particular term first popularly appeared in 1984 wherein it was the topic of a public debate at an annual meeting of American Association of Artificial Intelligent.”

How Does AI Work Though?

How does AI do what AI does? That’s a good and complicated question. Here’s a non-exhaustive answer.

AI learns in a variety of ways but one of the biggest ways, fairly universally, is that AI learns through experience. It learns through repetition. For many, that’s the greatest strength of AI.

ANNs or artificial neural networks are computing systems that are modeled after biological neural networks. Living brains. Animal brains. These systems learn through a consideration of given examples and aren’t often programmed with task-specific rules. Basically, someone gives them examples of what they want them to do, and the system recognizes things from those examples and replicates what it was given. One of the reasons why ANNs are a part of modern artificial intelligence is due to a technique named backpropagation. This technique gives networks the ability to course-correct when a network isn’t correctly fulfilling the task it was intended to fulfill.

“Basically, someone gives them examples of what they want them to do, and the system recognizes things from those examples and replicates what it was given.”

The Turing Test

A term people hear often in the context of artificial intelligence is the Turing Test. This test first appeared in 1950, by Alan Turing. Alan Turing is the British cryptanalysis who analyzed and broke down German intelligence messages for the British military during the Second World War. Turing was also a computer scientist, and philosopher. His test was created to examine a machine’s ability to mimic human intelligent behavior. The test itself first appeared in a paper Turing published in 1950 named “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”.

The test takes two humans, one of which is a judge and the other of which is an evaluator, as well as the machine being judged. The non-evaluating human and the machine would have a conversation, after which the judge would attempt to discern which of the two figures chatting was a human and which was a machine. If the evaluator can’t tell which of the two figures is human, the machine passes the test.

Why Is AI Important?

A.I. matters for a range of reasons. There are philosophical implications about humanity’s ability to create involved. But on a purely practical level AI matters because it could one day save humans from working on dangerous jobs, in inhumane conditions, and free us to focus on creative and artistic endeavors.

In Conclusion:

AI is one of the greatest examples of the power of the human mind. We’ve reached a point where our technology can learn. And can act on its own. It can even speak, in a round-about sort of way.

When you’re eager for more, dying to know how AI is being used, why people debate the merits and risks of AI, I hope you’ll come to this blog.