Technology Trends: How Should We Really Think of AI?

December 28th, 2021 by · Leave a Comment

One of the terms with the biggest, most enduring level of buzz across all areas of tech and infrastructure is Artificial Intelligence, or AI. It's always on the list of things on the horizon that will drive future demand and solve all sorts of problems. It's obvious that it's real and will have a huge impact, yet if you ask for specifics people start mumbling.

Sometimes that's because the buzz is ahead of reality, but that's not the case here because developments in AI are here and current and wonderful and ongoing.  It's just that the term AI has so much historical baggage from the entertainment industry that it is not possible to match up to. When you think of AI you think of computers you can talk to: HAL from '2001: A Space Odyssey', Skynet of 'Terminator' fame, and even KITT from the 80s 'Knight Rider' being just entries in a long list of high profile scifi cultural touchpoints.

The reality of AI is simultaneously much more useful yet mundane. Machine learning can sift through vast amounts of data to derive correlations and action items human brains either can't duplicate or would take too much time or expense to be worth the time. It is really, really good at this, and we are just starting to see the massive benefits. Self driving cars are coming, and while it may be a while before we trust them it won't be long before they are far, far more trustworthy than the flawed people we do give drivers licenses to. Nobody doubts that computers surpassed us in chess long ago and are now unapproachable by humans.

But the details aren't as sexy up close, because the applications are always so tightly focused. Who wants to explain the details and limitations to the average person in today's world of short attention spans? And who wants to dwell on the limitations of the human brain anyway?  So we use the umbrella term AI to goose things up, to make it sound like Siri or Alexa are more like living, breathing friends than just voice interfaces to a search engine.

I'm not complaining, that's really inevitable. But those of us closer to the actual reality need to think of AI in terms not provided by fictional talking androids. AI is no more and no less than the evolution path of all software. As both the hardware and software gets more powerful, they are able to solve problems better. More specifically they solve specific problems we used to solve more manually, and where they don't do that faster and more accurately then they soon will.

Perhaps one day AI will be about consciousness and intelligence, but for now what we are really looking at is more of a successor to Moore's Law. We may be pushing the limits of hardware advances, but software has a lot of running room left to improve exponentially. There's so much it can do that it doesn't yet do before we get anywhere near a HAL or a Skynet or even a KITT. In reality the applications of AI will be far more pervasive and valuable than being able to talk to an artificial personality, but most people will never recognize it as fulfilling those prophecies of Hollywood. 

AI isn't on the horizon, it's already part of the landscape both ahead of and behind us.  It's not a future driving force for new infrastructure and greater bandwidth, it's a current one with staying power that we are already benefiting from.

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Categories: Artificial Intelligence · Software · Uncategorized

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