Artificial Intelligence (AI)

What is AI?

AI refers to a system or machine that has been built to mimic human intelligence and perform tasks independently, and in some cases, iteratively improve itself based on information it collects as it performs said action. AI is used to perform tasks that would otherwise be performed manually, and to also help rapidly identify patterns and solve problems.

Some common examples of AI include customer-service chatbots and recommendation engines that suggest TV shows and films based on your watch history. Voice assistants also rely on artificial intelligence technologies such as natural language processing and machine learning to understand the user and react to them. A well-trained AI is excellent at recognising patterns and thanks to this can greatly speed up and improve the accuracy of medical diagnoses, such as cancers.

AI vs machine learning

While AI and machine learning are closely related and occasionally overlap in discussion, they are not the same thing.

AI uses data and logic to simulate the reasoning that people would use to make decisions based on new information and experiences—essentially mimicking human cognitive function.  Machine learning is regarded as a subset of AI. Its process employs data models to assist a computer in learning without direct instruction after the data has been set. This allows a computer to continue learning and improving on its own, as well as to form new habits based on what it has learned.

AI in pop culture

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a key theme in pop culture, particularly in the science-fiction genre. The concept of machines with human-like intelligence can be traced back to Samuel Butler’s 1872 novel Erewhon, where the book’s characters fear the machines as becoming more than what they are, and ultimately, dangerous, and harmful. Since then, AI has been the catalyst for many famous stories and is as popular as ever, permeating all forms of media and pop culture.

Many forms of media have used AI and its utopian or dystopian potential as the theme of their stories. The latter is the most common, in which AI machines, or robots, rebel against humans for various reasons.  The HAL 9000 computer from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the android C3PO and the robot R2-D2 from the Star Wars franchise, and The Terminator, are some of the most well-known AI-influenced characters on the big screen. Other popular examples include Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford as a “replicant hunter” to more recent fare such as Ex Machina, which explores empathy for almost-human machines, and Her, in which a lonely, heartbroken man finds comfort, solace, and connection to an AI interface named Samantha.

The influence of AI does not stop with films. Many video game franchises have incorporated AI into their plots. The Halo franchise has Cortana, who acts as an advisor to Master Chief. There is also GLaDOS, the overseer in Portal who serves as the game’s narrator and is one of the most well-known video characters when it comes to AI. However, as the story progresses, we discover that GLaDOS may not be as helpful as she first appears…

The use of AI itself can be found in gaming. Computer chess is the most common and simple example, where you can play against a computer with varying degrees of difficulty to challenge yourself. In larger, more modern video games, you will see small instances of AI within NPCs who will have a goal and will take actions based on what the player chooses to do. Some games have gone so far that the AI within NPCs will interact or target each other. The combat AI within the updated Doom franchise can sometimes trigger “monster infighting”, where two NPC enemies will clash and attack each other instead of the targeted player. This could be seen as a bug, but the franchise has turned this “side effect” into a game mechanic and even encourages players to take advantage of it!