"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is a science closely related to computer science and which is concerned about creating programs and machines that behave intelligently. Research on this field began after WWII and was first introduced by Alan Turing who designed a test aiming to identify whether a human was chatting with another human or with a machine; if a machine passed the Turing’s test then it was said to be intelligent. Since then, AI has become a valid area of research in multiple institutions worldwide whose goal is to create machines that can solve complex problems in the real world demanding a high level of intelligence.

Researchers in this flied don’t reach a consensus in predicting the arrival of true (conscious) artificial intelligence and moreover, the definition of intelligent is itself controversial. However, everyone agrees that humanity will be revolutionized when a machine can reach human-level intelligence. As of today, there have been various computer programs invented that behave intelligently but they are designed for a specific situation and lack awareness of the world. For example, the famous Deep Blue is a chess-playing machine that defeated the world champion Garry Kasparov. This machine can’t do anything but play chess and fails to realize its own existence. Thus, although we are still far from replicating human intelligence because of both hardware and software constraints, artificial intelligence can already be deployed to tackle a specific problem in various fields such as game theory, medicine, natural language processing, image processing and many others.

Most scientists would agree that because technology is growing exponentially, the hardware barrier to produce a machine as powerful as the human brain will soon disappear. Thus, the future of AI depends more on the capabilities of humans to program intelligent software and to successfully represent knowledge, learning and reasoning in terms of programs. It is believed that new fundamental ideas are required to achieve this goal and it is therefore difficult to predict when it will happen. The impact of AI is clear and independent of time: humans will no longer be required to perform certain tasks. It is therefore crucial to be prepared to take advantage of artificial intelligence in an ethical and professional manner.

Artificial Intelligence, as it exists today, is extremely useful in various industries and communities. For instance, some computer manufacturers have energetically advertised computers that have voice recognition systems. Similarly, programs with a very primitive level of intelligence (compared to human beings) can achieve enormous tasks faster than humans. Some examples include diagnosing a disease based on symptoms, playing games, pattern recognition, virtual reality, language translation and process automation. The ultimate goal of AI is to digitalize and reproduce human intelligence but while the world is waiting for that event, one can take advantage of the existing artificial intelligence agents that can perform specific but powerful tasks.

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