Artificial Intelligence

24 July 2017

The concept of Artificial intelligence (AI) is founded on the idea that human intelligence can be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it. The imagining of artificial beings, which are capable of performing human thoughts, has been around for centuries, and the basic concepts of AI stem from classical philosophers’ attempts to describe human thinking as a symbolic system.

The production of the first computer in the early 19th century, and the movement to programmable computers in the 20th century, began the realisation that machines could be taught to think. By the middle of the 1960s, machines were capable of playing basic games, proving logical theorems and speaking English. These computers, which were able to make calculations by implementing algorithms, showed that it was possible for machines to perform formal reasoning, thought to be the basis for intelligent thought.

Artificial Intelligence Neural Network

In the 1980s, the advancement of the intelligence of machines was demonstrated by AI programs which simulated knowledge and analytical skills of human experts. The development of computers over the course of the late 20th century progressed rapidly, and the greater computational power which was available by the 1990s meant that AI could be used in many different areas, such as logistics and data-mining.

With the developments of artificial intelligence, and as technologies became standard or routine, our understanding of what actions are actually considered to require intelligence changed. While a computer performing basic arithmetic was once considered to be remarkable, now almost every person carries a device capable of performing this as one of its most basic functions. Nowadays, with powerful processing capabilities and the likes of cloud-computing, computers use brain simulation techniques to attempt to imitate human thought processes. The goals of current artificial intelligence research include developing reasoning, knowledge, planning, learning, natural language processing (communication), perception and the ability to move and manipulate objects.

Development of AI has always been mainly focussed at creating useful tools for humans. A natural use for artificial intelligence is in businesses, where routine tasks can be completed by forms of AI, rather than humans, or AI can be used synergistically with existing systems.

A study conducted at Oxford University predicted that 47% of jobs could be automated by 2033. This process can already be seen to be happening, with machines replacing check-out services in supermarkets, and robot shelf-stackers.

Ocado, for example, uses machine learning tools for purposes such as automating management of customer-service related emails. Ocado is also attempting to replace barcode scanning with AI “vision” to be implemented in its warehouses, and with the delivery process, and using a deep learning library to predictively suggest items to add to your basket depending on past shopping habits. Natural language processing AI used for customer support is already being implemented by RBS, and is soon to be adapted by the NHS on the 111 non-emergency hotline. Uber uses machine learning to predict travelling habits of users, improve maps using computer vision and create algorithms for autonomous vehicles.

Even skilled work which requires years of training has been shown to be accomplished as effectively by AI and machines. Microsoft is currently working to help oncologists work out the most effective individualised cancer treatment for their patients by providing an intuitive way to sort through all the research data available. It has been shown that AI can be as effective as a trained doctor when diagnosing conditions such as skin cancer, and trials of autonomous robots have shown them to be capable of performing surgery better than a human surgeon.

However, while computers excel at performing complex calculations that humans struggle with, and processing vast amounts of data, they are, as yet, incapable of humanistic creative thought and imagination. It is possible that these innate human traits, which are often unconscious, will not be replicable by a computer; at least not any time soon.

It has been suggested that, while certain roles in business may no longer be performed by humans in the future, others will become more valuable. Pursuits such as sport, art and culture are likely to be in high demand. Human interaction is also likely to become far more valuable, as everyday interactions with shop assistants and baristas disappear, and new categories of jobs are likely to be created which work harmoniously with AI.

While these outcomes may be mere speculation, it is clear that the landscape of business is changing fast, and AI will soon become an integral part of the workforce.

Grace Wood

Grace Wood

Trainee Patent Attorney

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