What is the mind?
Is it simply a collective sum of networked neural impulses? Is it less or more than that? Where does it begin and where does it end? What is its purpose? Is it the soul?
These questions have haunted human consciousness for much of its existence. But in this increasingly digital age, we gain exciting new insight into the nature of consciousness by artificially simulating it.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is somewhat loosely defined; but it can generally be understood as a subset of biomimetics. This science (interchangeably referred to as “biomimicry”) imitates natural processes within technological systems using nature as a model for artificial innovation.
In nature, evolution rewards beneficial traits by proliferating them throughout the natural ecosystem; and technology shares similar tendencies—the technology that yields the most useful results is that which thrives. (Also read: Top Artificial Intelligence Trends to Look Forward To in 2022.)
As machines develop the ability to learn, compute and act with virtually human levels of creativity and individual agency, people are confronted with increasingly complex—but imminent—questions surrounding the nature of AI and its role in our future.
But before we delve too deeply into the semantics of artificial intelligence, let’s first examine three ways in which it is already beginning to manifest in our world.
Human perception is like a set of input devices on a computer:
- Visual data hits the human retina and flows through the optic nerve to the brain.
- Sound waves hit the outer, and then middle, ear before the inner ear begins the neuronal encoding process.
- Touch, smell and taste similarly transform external stimuli to internal neurological activity.
- Our memories serve as a database within which this sensory information can be cross-referenced, identified and put to use.
Computers reflect human anatomy in their configuration of input, transduction and storage.
Cloud technology, for example, has evolved into a sort of collective consciousness that stores, vets and distributes shared knowledge and ideas. Image and sound recognition software use camera and microphone hardware to input and cross-reference data with the cloud, in turn outputting an explanation of that which was seen or heard to the user.
Recognition apps—like CamFind and Shazam—basically serve as sensory search engines, while the fields of robotics and automated transportation build machines that use recognition technology to navigate and act within the world with unprecedented independence. (Also read: What Hyperautomation Can Achieve.)
Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHA) has served as one of the most effective validation tools in internet security for many years now. It is well known for blocking automated password breaches with a challenge-response interface that has long only been human-recognizable. However, a team known as Vicarious has managed to develop a breach for the software using a program that simulates human thought process.
The node-based software assesses the CAPTCHA image in stages and, like a human mind, is able to break elements of the image into components compared with language characters in a database. CAPTCHA has long been emblematic of the difference between machine intelligence and human intelligence. But with Vicarious’s new innovation, the line between the two is being blurred. (Also read: Will Robots Take Your Job? It Depends.)
There is a great deal of economic incentive for predictive technology. The discipline is used extensively in marketing by gauging customer behavior and data in order to anticipate commercial activity and maximize profit.
Analytics help businesses determine where to expend their effort to achieve the most desirable results; and they help them make the necessary predictions to compete in the modern digital economy.
Analytics technology is also implemented into some government and policing efforts. Some view this as highly useful, while others see it as potentially harmful as the tactics could employ biased statistics and perpetuate discriminatory practices. (Also read: Can AI Have Biases?)
But with predictive analytics improving disciplines like medicine and environmental science, there also exists a great deal of potential for social good in both the private and public sectors.
Predictive health IT systems work to improve accuracy and efficiency in health science, elevating preventative medicine to a level that virtually automates it. Intelligent systems employ prediction to identify future benefits and avoid potential problems. They can also help people before they even realize they need it.
As unpredictable, table-tipping external forces shattered the global economy, predictive analytics represented a critical asset to keep things under control. Supply chain leaders that relied on strong, AI-based predictive analysis software were able to keep up with the events by keeping their logistics efficient and their inventories under control—even when going through the roughest patches. For example, on-time deliveries became even more vital during widespread lockdowns, and only the most precisely optimized routes proved able to overcome the many uncertainties the supply chain faced in the last couple of years. (Also read: Has a Global Pandemic Changed the World’s View of AI?)
Probably the first thing that comes to mind when talking about AI is intelligent robots. While we’re certainly still far from achieving this fanta-scientific goal, the latest practical AI applications in robotics are starting to enter a straight leg in our everyday lives.
Home assistants are leveraging AI to become more and more able to evolve and adapt, while robotic vacuums are now able to use their sensors to identify obstacles, map rooms and establish the most efficient routes for cleaning.
New robot surgeons can perform amazingly complex operations without human assistance and have all the potential to save human lives and change healthcare forever. (Also read: Top 20 AI Use Cases: Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare.)
More in general, AI is making existing robots more efficient and (obviously) intelligent at doing what they already do.
For example, adaptive frameworks help walker robots better “understand” the terrain around them; and they help lifters transport and handle heavy but delicate objects. Drones can navigate autonomously over rough terrain, fly over strong winds and improve stability when facing unexpected circumstances.
Whether or not AI will benefit humanity is inherently difficult to predict. But one thing is almost certain: Whoever controls it will wield considerable power and influence over all of human civilization.
Money, labor, government and media are just a few facets of society that will change dramatically thanks to AI innovations. While there have been positive strides in things like using AI to help find ways to be more Earth-friendly, there is still many arenas where AI could be a boon to society.
It’s just up to us to set the technology on the right path while we still can.