by John Rudy
Artificial Intelligence has been around for 50 years and describes the environment where computers are able to do things that one normally associates with humans. Years ago, there were computer programs that could easily beat most folks at backgammon, checkers and chess. More recently the chess programs have become so good that they can routinely beat even the best players, and just this year, a Go master repeatedly lost to a computer. But these are games. Where does this technology apply to us? And should we be worried? There are many examples of how artificial intelligence can be beneficial to us. Here are just four that can help to better understand the field.
- Language translation. A number of companies provide language translation, but the consensus is that the free Google software has recently become excellent. https://translate.google.com/ I know this is a little hard to read, but on the left you can specify a language (there are about 100 available) or even let Google guess the language from the vocabulary. On the right, you specify the language you want it translated into. In addition to providing text as input, you can provide a URL (a web page) and it will translate that. Try it out, you’ll be amazed. Note that if your computer is set to receive voice input, you can do it that way too. The translations are not perfect, but they are pretty good.
- Smart phone translation. There are many programs available on smart phones to provide instantaneous translation into other spoken languages. So, you can go to a restaurant in Albania and talk onto your phone and it will speak to the waiter in Albanian. This is truly amazing! I’ve seen these products work but do not own this capability. Here are some ratings of available products.
- Robot companions. The last few years have seen the emergence of “robots” that can be your companions, scan peak to you, answer questions, and perform tasks. Once again, this has its plusses and minuses as revealed when one of these units placed online orders for a child and charged the costs to the adult-provided credit card. The Amazon Echo starts as low as $50 though there are higher priced, more functional versions. Check which of these functionalities below are available on the unit you are investigating. Google and others have competitive products, but Amazon currently has 70% of the market.
- Plays all your music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc as requested by your voice
- Ask Alexa to call or message anyone with an Echo, Echo Dot, or the Alexa App.
- It can hear you from across a room with far-field voice recognition, even while music is playing
- Answers questions, reads the news, reports traffic and weather, reads audiobooks from Audible, gives info on local businesses, provides sports scores and schedules, controls Amazon Video on Fire TV, and more using the Alexa Voice Service
- Controls lights, fans, TVs, switches, thermostats, garage doors, sprinklers, locks, and more with compatible connected devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Sony, Samsung SmartThings, Nest, and others
- And whatever it doesn’t do now–just wait a year or two.
- Pattern Recognition. For many years, it was assumed that humans were particularly adept at pattern recognition. Recently, though, it has been shown that this is not the case. Let’s take the example of mammograms. Computers were taught (“machine learning”) by being given thousands of x-rays and told which ones had tumors. When the computer made a mistake on a new picture, the correct answer was provided which further refined the database. https://www.sciencealert.com/ai-analyses-mammograms-30-times-faster-and-20-more-accurately-than-doctors The machines are getting better and better. There are many objectives: to catch more real tumors, avoid false positives (with attendant biopsies), read them faster and for less cost.
- Many companies are using AI to refine their marketing and help consumers. Here is one I like. Netflix asks me to rate, on a 1-5 scale, how I like a movie. Further, it asks how frequently I view movies of that genre (I might have loved Still Alice, but hate movies of that type). Subsequently, it gives me a Rudy-score when I consider another movie. This is much better than IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes which knows nothing about my personal likes and dislikes. Other companies, like Amazon, provide a similar ability to rate what I get.
To conclude, let’s briefly discuss the Singularity. This is the point at which computers become smarter than humans and are able to take advantage of it. Think The Terminator. Some very smart people like Steven Hawking and Elon Musk are worried. See http://time.com/3614349/artificial-intelligence-singularity-stephen-hawking-elon-musk/ Musk recently called for the establishment of national or international regulations on the development of AI. In some ways, this is like the limitations placed on cloning, yet the Chinese and others are violating those rules. I don’t expect that advances in AI will slow down, and the implications are as great as those resulting from the Industrial Revolution.
In this blog, I’ve provided links to a number of articles on elated subjects. Let me know if this is useful.
A long-time computer expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature. In the comment box below, please provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .