AI — Artificial Intelligence — is the latest technological advancement to take over the digital world, and you’re probably hearing about it in dozens of different contexts. There’s AI like ChatGPT, which can generate literature from a few suggestive key words. There’s AI being used in self-driving cars, and to produce algorithms that customize our social media feeds. The list goes on and on, and you’re probably wondering whether AI will impact you in any way. Odds are that it already is, without you even noticing. Here’s the breakdown on what AI is, and how it will probably impact our daily lives for the foreseeable future.
What Is AI Actually?
Artificial Intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence processes by computer systems. Before you start picturing HAL from Space Odyssey, AI doesn’t necessarily look like some kind of humanoid robot. AI actually refers to a foundation of specialized hardware and software for writing and training machine learning algorithms.
To break it down, AI systems work by ingesting large (and we mean large) amounts of labeled training data, then analyzing the data for correlations and patterns, and using these patterns to make predictions about future states. So, for example, the people designing the software for self-driving cars are feeding millions of traffic scenarios into AI, which then generates conclusions about what the safest action would be. If successful, the AI computer will have more driving “experience” than any human could ever hope to achieve in a lifetime.
How Is AI Currently Used?
AI is especially good at tasks most humans find dull and repetitive, such as data processing, and it’s being used in almost every market you can imagine. Businesses can automate customer interactions using Chatbots. In the education field, tests can be graded automatically and individualized learning plans can be generated for students based on the results. Similarly, it is the hope that doctors can feed data into AI and it will generate more accurate diagnoses. Lawyers are using AI during the discovery process, to sift through countless documents for pertinent data. Social media and the entertainment industry use AI for targeted advertising and content creation (which is ethically questionable, but that’s a whole other story); and some people are having a lot of success using AI to make financial investment decisions.
How Can AI Help Me?
Right now, AI is already influencing what you see when you scroll Facebook, which shows are suggested on your Netflix homepage, and you’re probably talking to an AI-powered chatbot whenever you seek technological support online. In this way, Artificial Intelligence is already streamlining many of your everyday interactions, without you even being aware.
In the near future, some of the most promising uses for AI are in the medical field. AI can be used to monitor your health through wearable devices and smart home systems to track vital signs, detect falls, and send alerts to caregivers or emergency personnel. It can be used to automate tasks to help those who struggle with daily living, like people with mobility issues or memory loss. And, as we touched upon earlier, it can also be used to generate a more complete medical background for a patient who has a complex medical history. (If you suffer from multiple health issues, you know firsthand how frustrating it can be to deal with the fragmentation of our medical system, with a different specialist for each ailment. The hope is that AI will make it easier for doctors to access information and create a better, more detailed treatment plan.)
The Dangers of AI
As a technology that’s still in development, it’s hard to know how far AI will go. All kinds of experts are exerting pressure urging the regulation of the applications of AI, because while it can be a supremely handy tool it can also be abused in some disturbing ways.
For example, AI raises a lot of questions regarding data privacy concerns. AI can sift through content readily available online to generate images and sounds to use in deep fakes and phishing scams, making them even harder to identify. The CBS show 60 Minutes recently aired a disturbing special on the “Grandparent Scam,” where scammers were able to successfully replicate the voice of a grandchild to ask for money over the phone.
Another issue is that of inherent bias in programming artificial intelligence software. This is when the unconscious bias of a programmer or historical data influences the development of a faulty algorithm. Recently, for example, Amazon found out that their AI recruiting algorithm was biased against women. The program was based on their past hiring practices, such as the number of resumes submitted over the last 10 years and the candidates that were successfully hired. Since most of the candidates were men, the algorithm was selecting more men than women.
In the medical field, racial prejudice was discovered in an algorithm used by US hospitals, which led to Black patients failing to qualify for extra care as frequently as white patients with the same needs. (Essentially, the algorithm failed to account for the different ways in which Black and white patients typically pay for healthcare, with disastrous results.) These kinds of accidents — which will continue if AI proceeds without regulation — could lead to you being denied a bank loan, or insurance coverage, or important medical care.