“Hey Google, what’s the weather today?” You may have asked Google this question many times and received the answer many times, but I’m wondering how many people actually know how Google Assistant itself works. Besides, what’s with all of this AI nonsense? Perhaps more importantly, is it all sunshine and flowers or is there a deeper secret behind this? Plus, should fears of AI really be justified?
First off, AI is a big buzzword in the tech sector right now, but what exactly is it? Well, according to Oxford Languages, artificial intelligence is the “theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.” Laymen terms? We’re trying to get computers to understand the world and act in the same way that a human understands and acts.
Now, what does that have to do with Google Assistant? Well, it’s through the development of natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML), each a branch of artificial intelligence, that Google can understand you and provide you with the relevant information that you request. Basically, without at least the core components of NLP and ML, Google wouldn’t have the AI capability to even understand what you have asked it (it isn’t a human, after all) or process your request (this is where the ML, the ability for a computer to use data and recreate the method that humans learn, comes into effect).
Great! Now we know how Google Assistant runs on AI, but what about other ways that AI has infiltrated our daily lives? Well, Tesla has built a few self-driving cars (okay you got me, maybe more than a few) and how else would those cars work but with artificial intelligence! According to Tesla’s website, “Our per-camera networks analyze raw images to perform semantic segmentation, object detection and monocular depth estimation.” Woah, that’s a really big sentence there! But let’s break it down- essentially, Tesla wants to have camera systems analyze thousands of images (and videos) to understand concepts like depth estimation and object detection by having computers find similarities and differences (so as to learn through data experience). This then allows Tesla to use that info to find the best path and speed for your car based on whether there is a car nearby (object detection) or how far in front of you that same car is (depth estimation).
And what about education? Well, even in the slowest developing sector there is (seriously, we still teach as we did a century ago!) tech has begun its great evolution. Want to know how to get back up to speed when you’re falling behind in class? Knewton, the founder of higher education product Alta, thinks they know the answer. According to Knewton, utilizing AI will allow them to be able to create adaptive learning technology which means Alta “adapts to students’ proficiency levels with each interaction”. Alta is then there “identifying students’ knowledge gaps and providing just-in-time remediation.” In essence, Alta can utilize machine learning (there’s that word again!) so it can analyze thousands of data points related to students. Through this method of machine learning, Alta is then able to comprehend how a student is falling behind and match the correct coursework to be able to fix that knowledge gap to allow the student to develop the skills required for the class rather than having the student simply get more and more confused.
Now, why am I giving you all of this info? Well, simply put, most people just don’t know how much of their daily lives have been infiltrated by artificial intelligence. If you have been surprised at any examples that have already been given, just wait until you hear of other lesser-known applications of AI in our daily lives: toothbrushes, Netflix, gaming hardware/software, and even Spotify. And that’s just scraping the surface! Proof? Photoshop, Gmail, and HVAC systems also employ artificial intelligence. And that’s not even including the emerging AI technologies within the medical field and the WiFi realm… I could seriously go on and on, but I think I probably cemented my point and maybe even went farther (or way farther) than needed (sorry, y’all).
Now, if you’re still somehow reading what even I am finding to be a kinda annoying article, well kudos to you! Also, thank you! But here’s where I finally get to the point of answering the questions that this way-too-long article asked in the very first paragraph: What’s this nonsense of this too-good-to-be-true technology and are our fears of AI really justified?
Well, AI does have the potential to further our society leaps and bounds ahead of what we have now. Self-driving cars, for example, prove as much. Hell, even the smaller applications of AI can still help all of humanity greatly. The Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 estimated that 3.5 billion people worldwide are affected by oral diseases, even though a great deal of these conditions is largely preventable. Since fully brushing your teeth (and making sure it’s done well) is one factor that can contribute to stemming these oral health conditions, this is where the previously mentioned integration of toothbrushes with AI comes in handy.
Of course, that’s not to say that artificial intelligence doesn’t have any downsides. Over-reliance on AI, such as on self-driving cars, can have disastrous consequences. In December 2019, a Tesla slammed into a Honda Civic while the Tesla Autopilot was on, causing two deaths. This story is most certainly also not unique- as of March 2022, there have been a total of 12 verified deaths involving Tesla Autopilot. Yet, AI doesn’t have to kill to harm. That toothbrush AI? Security Researcher Craig Wright worries that the Oral B Triumph Toothbrush and its accompanying phone app is not keeping your sensitive data encrypted, a finding dating way back to 2008. As of November 2015, the last time this concern was published in an article, the security flaw has still not been fixed.
Has artificial intelligence infiltrated daily life? Yes, so it would seem. Are there darker and deeper secrets to be uncovered? Well, yes again! Is AI just nonsense? Hmm, can’t say that would be true… So where does this all leave us? Well, AI has the potential to help society immensely, while at the same time being a double-edged sword. My opinion then? Well, the way I see it, consumers should probably really start to learn about what products they are using and companies should probably do more to inform the public on how the futuristic technology of AI is already here. It’s only together that we can truly utilize this great technology safely after all, and only together that we can use it to its fullest potential!