It sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it? Self-driving cars, Amazon delivery drones and smart homes that will take care of all your mundane household chores – this is what many people think about when they hear the words ‘artificial intelligence’.
But did you know AI is already part of your day-to-day life? Every time you log onto your Facebook or Instagram feed, use voice commands on your phone or set reminders or look something up, you’re benefitting from it.
Let’s look at the tech in more detail, and show you some of the new ways you may be using it in the future…
What is AI?
AI works by copying the human thought process (hence ‘artificial’ and ‘intelligence’) – giving machines the ability to do things like learn information, respond to it and interact with others.
It’s all about algorithms – long, complex maths equations – made up of a series of ‘if this, then that’ commands. If something happens, then the robot responds like this.
AI goes a step further by using machine learning to help robots create their own ‘if this, then that’ commands. These are developed based on what they’ve seen before. If a robot sees you slip on a banana peel, then it knows banana peels are slippery.
Eventually scientists hope AI will be advanced enough to allow robots to hold conversations and even think their own thoughts (read: the singularity) – although that’s still a way off.
So how exactly is it being used today?
On your social media timelines
Social media has been using AI for many years, but it’s now more noticeable than ever.
Whereas once you would see every post from every friend in chronological order, now social media services like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will serve you the things it thinks you like.
The AI powering these decisions looks at choices you’ve made in the past – if you liked similar content, or you’ve recently viewed that person’s profile, for instance.
Worryingly, it will even try to guess your political views when deciding which content to show you, which has led to some people claiming that social media into a bit of an echo chamber.
Then again, machine learning takes a long time, so who knows how it will improve in the future?
Do you ever use the voice-activated personal assistant on your phone or other device? You may not realise it, but that’s AI at work too.
Virtual assistants like Siri, Cortana, Alexa and the Google Assistant are still young, but they’re learning rapidly. Right now, you can already use voice commands to do things like:
Launch apps without having to scroll through your home screen
Set reminders for important events like birthdays and meetings
Write and send a text message with only your voice
Find out information like restaurant opening hours, and book a table too
Order items from online shopping websites direct to your home
What’s more, the more you use these virtual assistants, the more they learn about you and your behaviour. Over time, they’ll be able to give you better advice. They may even start to pre-empt what you’re going to say.
Microsoft’s Cortana starts by asking you a series of personal questions about yourself to help it get to know you better. Like Siri, it can recognise your voice – open it up simply by saying ‘hey, Cortana’ – then use it to set reminders, sync with your calendar and answer questions using Bing.
You may have noticed, the last time you went shopping online or contacted a company about an unpaid bill, that you ended up chatting to an assistant via online chat.
What you may not have noticed was that the assistant might not have been a human at all! They may have been powered by artificial intelligence.
“But, how did they know how to respond to everything I said?” That’s because these chatbots have been trained over many years to identify the way people talk. By analysing every conversation, they get better every time.
And, since they are programmed to know everything about the company they work for, they can scour inventories or access databases in seconds.
How will AI be used in future?
AI is already used in our homes and devices for carrying out simple tasks like these, but in the future, we could see it become even more important to our day-to-day lives.
One day, we may even experience video games where the virtual world is powered by artificial intelligence – and if we’re playing in VR on a headset like one of these, it could feel just like real life!
Or how about when you’re out shopping or looking for information in a public place? There’s a new type of service robot being developed that can recognise when you’re lost or in need of help.
One of these, Hitachi’s EMIEW3, is already being used at Tokyo Haneda Airport. It can speak any language and knows its way around the three-terminal airport to help travellers from around the world find their gates. It could even be coming to UK shops soon.
This and other robot shop assistants might one day replace real people working in shops. They have already shown that they can be used to:
Respond intelligently when you ask for help
Recognise when you need assistance and approach you without being prompted
Share data with other robots to offer a smoother service
And it’s not just shops and airports they’re taking over – robots could also become more commonplace in your home too. Pepper, the ‘emotive’ robot, launched in 2014 and has already been sold to 12,000 homes in Europe. Pepper has been trained to recognise your emotions and its job is to “make people enjoy life”.
This is just the start. Soon, we may start to see robots that can cook, clean and restock our houses with groceries while we’re out at work during the day. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Of course, the next big frontier in artificial intelligence is the subject of much debate at the moment – driverless vehicles, powered exclusively by AI.
Imagine the next time you hop in a taxi – but instead of telling a driver where you want to go, you simply punch in the directions and the car takes you there by itself. You could sit behind the wheel enjoying breakfast, playing video games or taking a nap – and wake up at your destination feeling refreshed!
Better yet, with ride-hailing apps and driverless cars services becoming more popular, you might never need to actually own a car. That’ll save you a bundle in tax, insurance and maintenance.
Driverless cars used to seem really futuristic but they’re quickly becoming a reality. Tech giants Google and Tesla are working furiously to make driverless cars a feature of our roads by 2021. Their driverless cars use built-in sensors to scan road signs and recognise when other cars are nearby. The cars can also avoid hazards like people crossing the road or cyclists to make sure they stay safe on the road.