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February 20, 2020

A Quick Guide to Artificial Intelligence

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Fifty years ago, artificial intelligence (or AI) was the stuff of science fiction. Authors like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke wrote stories about sentient robots and the implications such a thing would have on mankind. In some tales, the AI was beneficial and overall good. In others, it tried to destroy its human creators. While androids don’t walk our streets just yet, the concept of AI is no longer relegated to fiction. The development and use of artificial intelligence is a cornerstone of many tech companies, like IBM, Google, and Tesla. Advancements in the field come about every day. However, despite the rise in AI technology, many people remain unaware of its uses and implications for society and privacy. This quick guide goes over the basics of artificial intelligence.

  • What is AI?
  • How do we use it?
  • What are the benefits of AI?
  • What are the concerns of AI?
  • Can I protect myself from AI?

What is AI?

The industry of artificial intelligence is exactly as the name suggests. The main goal of AI scientists is to simulate human intelligence in machines. In some cases, scientists and engineers program machines to think and behave like humans. In others, they attempt to teach machines to learn independently and problem solve. When it comes to artificial intelligence, most people tend to think of androids and sentient robots. However, the application of AI is far wider reaching. Self driving cars, smartphone assistants, facial recognition, and more all need this technology to function.

How Do We Use Artificial Intelligence?

AI has many uses. However, some are more widely known about than others. These are just a few of the most common technologies that rely on artificial intelligence:

  • Personal Assistants: Smart assistants like Siri and Alexa are only possible because of AI. The technology enables them to decipher voice commands, predict our needs, and more.
  • Tesla: Artificial intelligence powers Tesla’s famous cars. Thanks to AI, the cars can predict driving behaviours and even drive themselves. Although the cars aren’t perfect yet, advances in the field continue to make them better.
  • Netflix: Every time you see a recommended movie or TV show on Netflix, you can thank AI. The streaming service uses the technology to analyze viewer behaviour and predict other content they would enjoy.
  • Email: There’s a lot of spam in the world. In order to prevent it from landing in your inbox, email providers use AI. Spam filters continuously learn what to block from our inboxes to keep them spam-free.

Although these examples are some common uses of artificial intelligence technology, they barely scratch the surface of the industry. A quick internet search can reveal even more.

What Are the Benefits of AI?

Artificial intelligence benefits us in many ways. Convenience is one of the most important benefits. The technology calculates tax and shipping when we shop online. It corrects our spelling and grammar in text messages and documents. It adds funny filters to our Snapchat photos. And more. Another major AI benefit comes in the form of security. Many security systems use the technology to learn and adapt to attacks and malware. Industry experts also predict that AI will help to improve healthcare, create jobs, and even eliminate global poverty.

What are the Concerns of AI?

Although AI technology has many benefits, there are also some drawbacks. Most of those drawbacks relate to privacy. As it stands, most artificial intelligence uses powerful data-gathering algorithms. These algorithms analyze human behaviour and can deduce information about us based on small amounts of information. Agencies of power can then use that information to track and predict our activities, without our permission. To most people, this is a massive invasion of privacy.

Facial recognition concerns also stem from the use of AI, because it has the ability to all but eliminate privacy and anonymity in public. One recent example of AI used for this purpose comes from Canada. The Toronto Police Service began using a facial recognition app in 2019. The app, called Clearview AI, identifies people on the street by scanning for matches in a massive database collected from online images. Controversially, it may allow law enforcement to profile innocent citizens. The chief of police has since ordered members of the force to stop using the app.

Many experts also predict that, in the future, AI may be used for espionage, and can provide governments with the tools to oppress their citizens.

Can I Protect Myself From AI?

In many cases, AI protects us and makes our lives easier. However, that does not mean it is without risk. While disconnecting from AI entirely is almost impossible, there are ways to mitigate its dangers. A few methods include:

  • Supporting Watch Groups: Some advancements in AI negatively impact society. We often rely on watch groups to recognize and challenge these occurrences. However, they require public funding and support to have their challenges hold up against companies that often have more resources. If you have the means, donating to these groups can help mitigate the consequences of AI development.
  • Know Your Rights: Although watch groups exist, they can’t see everything. If you come across an AI technology that you believe uses its power irresponsibly, be the one to sound the alarm on it. However, know your rights first. If the technology doesn’t violate them, mounting a challenge against it may not be possible.
  • Opting Out: If you aren’t comfortable with AI technology, opt out of using it where possible. For example, don’t allow your smartphone to unlock based on facial recognition. Don’t buy a self-driving car. Avoiding exposure to artificial intelligence is nearly impossible, but it is possible to limit it.

When it comes to artificial intelligence, “science fiction” has become, simply, “science.” Keep an eye out for new developments: they may improve life, or make it less private. Knowing which will help you keep up and remain safe with new technologies.

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