Intelligence demonstrated by machines that mimics human decisions and actions for problem solving is called Artificial Intelligence. Intelligence accumulated in the machine is a result of an incremental learning process from data accumulated in the business environment.
Human intelligence consists of varied aspects – discriminating between objects, identifying people and places, understanding languages, recognizing sounds and music, logical analysis and mathematical computations. The list is endless. AI systems are being developed for specific goal-oriented applications covering some of these abilities.
Machine Learning, Big Data and Robotics are its key enablers. Neural networks (a study that understands how the human brain works) helps to add human-like intelligence to the computer. Examples include Google Street View, iPhone Face unlock and Walmart's automated supply chain. AI is still in a nascent stage, but is one of most rapidly growing technologies in the world.
AI is not a new discovery. Why is there such a buzz around AI all of a sudden?
A popular theme in science fiction and folklore, the field of AI research was founded as an academic discipline as early as 1956. There was thriving activity for two decades, with ambitious targets set for matching human intelligence.
However, nothing substantial could be achieved by the 1970s with heavy rule-based systems having poor computational power. A bleak withdrawal period called the AI Winter followed when research and funding slowed down.
In the 21st century, several parallel developments renewed interest in AI. Exponential increase in computer processing speed, major drop in memory costs, upsurge of open source programming frameworks, advancement in voice and image processing techniques turned out to be game changers. The advent of big data and cloud computing enabled large scale distributed deployments feasible at company/national level.
When machine learning moved from rule-driven to data-driven algorithms, AI got the biggest boost. Historical data turned into a powerful enabler. Wireless networks, smart devices, IOT and developments in robotics have completed the circle. AI solutions have reached the maturity to be cost effective and implementable.
What are the major components of an AI solution?
Listed below are the main components that act as building blocks in any modern day AI solution:
- Machine Learning - Computers use statistical techniques to "learn" (progressively improve performance on a specific task) from data, without being explicitly programmed. ML is supported by large volumes of data called Big Data. Data could be historical or real-time data, structured or unstructured. Data is stored in distributed cloud computing and storage systems. ML also employs a computing system called Artificial Neural networks, inspired by how biological nervous systems and the brain process information. Eg: Image recognition, how a child identifies a cat.
- Natural Language Processing - Ability to detect words and meanings from human voice in various spoken languages. Systems like voice assistants learn from past data and improve their language interpretation over time.
- Robotics - The mechanical arm of AI that enables automated decisions to be implemented though robots, driverless cars, drones and other smart devices.
What are the different approaches to AI?
AI means empowering machines to act as humans would. This intelligence can be fed into machines in several ways. These approaches can be grouped into one of the two categories listed below:
- Symbolic, rule-based approach – Expert Systems – Artificial General Intelligence: Goal is to produce general human-like intelligence, not specific to a given problem at hand. Symbolic representations are used to cover responses to unplanned, uncertain situations adding weightages to social, emotional aspects as well as logic. This approach was prevalent in the early years (1960s-1990s) with the development of fuzzy logic and expert systems. IBM chess program that beat Garry Kasparov in the 1990s is a good example of this approach.
- Statistical, data-based approach – Machine Learning – Narrow/Weak AI: With advent of Machine Learning, approach to AI changed. ML employs statistical modelling algorithms on historical data and derives "intelligence" from experience. This method is effective for specific business problems, hence the name Narrow AI. Goal is to build AI by consolidating intelligence from different scenarios. Applications in the medical field for disease detection and drug testing on patients is a prominent application of this approach.
Which are the common open source frameworks to build AI solutions?
One of the main reasons for explosive growth in AI research and development in the recent times is the availability of reliable, efficient open source programming frameworks that support AI solutions development. Not just major IT corporations, university projects and small startups are also joining the AI bandwagon because of this. Some of the widely used programming languages and frameworks are listed below:
- Python and R Programming Languages - Basis for almost all ML algorithm implementations powering AI solutions. They have a strong developer community and excellent package library support for most applications. Python is the base over which several ML/DL and NLP frameworks are built.
- TensorFlow Deep Learning Framework - Python based computational framework from Google for building Deep Learning models. Widely used for building hierarchical ML applications, deep belief nets. It's being used for translation in Google's Translate, for OCR in WPS Office, fraud detection in PayPal.
- PyTorch - Deep Learning framework from FaceBook. Major vendors like Microsoft and Amazon are expected to provide complete support to the framework across their cloud products.
Keras, Theano, and MS CNTK are some other frameworks.
What are the applications of AI that are currently in the market?
AI applications have pervaded all areas of work and life. From the mobile phone in hand to futuristic space research, AI is everywhere. AI applications domain-wise are listed below:
- Smartphone Apps and Utilities - Google Street View, iPhone Face unlock, voice assistants.
- Retail - Automated supply chains, scanning product images and shop, automated billing, customized shopping experience.
- Financial Services - Bots on the stock market, fraud detection, estimating customer credit worthiness.
- Auto Industry - Vehicle preventive maintenance, driverless cars, delivery drones.
What are the technical challenges associated with AI research and development?
- Computing Power Limitations - There is exponential growth in processing speeds, distributed computing abilities and large-scale memory storage. But demands are even greater, especially with deep learning applications. Only large corporations can match demand, and this limits the scope for startups.
- Skilled Manpower - AI applications require niche computer science skills such as ML, NLP, image processing, robotics, and data sciences. Since most of these fields of study are still evolving, finding high quality manpower is a challenge. Reskilling engineers from traditional programming or design skills to new-age AI skills is the need of the hour.
What are the social and economic risks associated with AI technology?
However promising and revolutionary AI may sound, it comes saddled with several risks impacting society and livelihoods. Key risks are:
- Fear of widespread job loss - Since AI brings a new bunch of technologies into the fore, several IT and business skills such as manual testing, customer support, traditional programming, and managerial tasks are becoming obsolete. In the wider world, impact is even more pronounced. Autonomous cars replace human drivers. Drone deliveries replace home delivery staff. AI and robotics replace several manufacturing jobs. Impact on healthcare, financial services and retail are expected to be high.
- Bias due to bad data - AI systems are as good or bad as the data fed into them. If companies and governments feed biased data with malicious intent, results can be disastrous. Self-regulation is the only method in practice. Stricter legislations and tight international data policing rules are needed.
- Over-reliance on digital devices - Smart devices running AI are invading organizations, homes, and government institutions. Lifestyle deficiencies such as exposure to wireless radiation, excessive time spent with gadgets, and lack of basic computational and social skills are worrying.
In a contest of man vs machine, IBM's Deep Blue beats the world champion at chess. This showcases computing capability to tackle complex calculations for drug discovery, large database searches, broad financial modelling, and more. In February 2011, another IBM machine named Watson beats humans at another game, called Jeopardy! Computers can now process and reason about natural languages, heralding rich human-computer interactions for the future.
Many major automotive manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Audi, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, and Volvo, start testing driverless car systems. Tesla Motors announces its first version of AutoPilot. Model S cars equipped with this system are capable of lane control with autonomous steering, braking, automated parking and speed limit adjustment.
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