What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a wide-ranging branch of computer science concerned with building smart machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. AI is an interdisciplinary science with multiple approaches, but advancements in machine learning and deep learning are creating a paradigm shift in virtually every sector of the tech industry. 

How Does Artificial Intelligence Work?

Less than a decade after breaking the Nazi encryption machine Enigma and helping the Allied Forces win World War II, mathematician Alan Turing changed history a second time with a simple question: “Can machines think?” 

Turing’s paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” (1950), and it’s subsequent Turing Test, established the fundamental goal and vision of artificial intelligence.   

At it’s core, AI is the branch of computer science that aims to answer Turing’s question in the affirmative. It is the endeavor to replicate or simulate human intelligence in machines.

The expansive goal of artificial intelligence has given rise to many questions and debates. So much so, that no singular definition of the field is universally accepted.  

The major limitation in defining AI as simply “building machines that are intelligent” is that it doesn’t actually explain what artificial intelligence is? What makes a machine intelligent?

In their groundbreaking textbook Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, authors Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig approach the question by unifying their work around the theme of intelligent agents in machines. With this in mind, AI is “the study of agents that receive percepts from the environment and perform actions.”

What are the uses for AI?

AI is ubiquitous today, used to recommend what you should buy next online, to understanding what you say to virtual assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, to recognise who and what is in a photo, to spot spam, or detect credit card fraud.

What are the different types of AI?

At a very high level, artificial intelligence can be split into two broad types: narrow AI and general AI.

As mentioned above, narrow AI is what we see all around us in computers today: intelligent systems that have been taught or have learned how to carry out specific tasks without being explicitly programmed how to do so.

This type of machine intelligence is evident in the speech and language recognition of the Siri virtual assistant on the Apple iPhone, in the vision-recognition systems on self-driving cars, or in the recommendation engines that suggest products you might like based on what you bought in the past. Unlike humans, these systems can only learn or be taught how to do defined tasks, which is why they are called narrow AI.