October 13, 2016


There was a point in time when technology like OCR (optical character recognition) was considered artificial intelligence, once OCR became mainstream it was no longer perceived as AI. As I am sure at one point the electronic calculator which was created in the 60s was also considered AI, pretty cutting edge at the time and certainly an extension of our human intelligence that would afford it a place under the title of Artificial Intelligence, now we hardly consider it even a peer of the mighty computer much less intelligent.

According to Wikipedia, the term "artificial intelligence" is applied when a machine mimics "cognitive" functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as "learning" and "problem-solving".

Broad, isn't it?

We find ourselves in a time where AI is exploding, the closed box we once called a computer is now being replaced with decorative cylindrical bases that speak in pleasant female voices and that can hold a conversation better than most humans can these days.

Chat Bots are now replacing clunky apps and websites as a primary way to interface with a brand or a service. Simply tell it what you want and it will converse with you until it can find exactly what it is you are looking for and now it can even get what you need to you in as much time as it took to converse about it in the first place.

Pretty crazy stuff. The stuff of the future, except it is now and it is proliferating faster than I think anyone could have predicted.

Let's take a look backward for a second and recognize that the term Artificial Intelligence has been around for some time and that all those cool things that fell under the moniker of Artificial Intelligence (mimicking human cognitive functions) at some point became normalized and lost the tag artificial, they simply became intelligent.

Even as far back as early science fiction the tension between artificial and intelligence has been a central storyline as swashbuckling captains and fierce Jedi formed tight bonds with their robotic counterparts blurring the definition of the word artificial and endearing us to those intelligent beings that helped see them through those impossible missions they encountered across the galaxy and space-time continuums.

Let's take this opportunity to focus on the word "Intelligence."

Much of the work that has been done in the computational, marketing, start-up, technology and innovation world has been somewhat intelligent, not really intelligent, more an extension of our own intelligence. But now, today, we are starting to see products and solutions to problems that are actually quite intelligent, actually really intelligent.

Solutions that can allow us to have 1:1 relationships with millions, even billions of people at scale. Solutions that are using conversational interfaces that open up worlds once unknown to most people. Access to massive amounts of data, connecting services and commerce, delivering content in the form of conversation, a human language that everyone understands.

Of course, like most new things we are cynical and entitled, we look at AI with a blind eye and complain how it isn't really ready for prime time or how it is flawed and unpredictable but if you really took the time to understand what is really going on it would blow your mind. Much like the Louis C.K. Rant about how people complain about wifi being slow on a plane, you are 30,000 in the air, you are on a mini hand-held computer more powerful than any desktop you ever had and you are streaming videos and texting with your friends while cruising at 600 mph crossing continents and time zones.

I am not so sure we are entering the age of Artificial Intelligence rather I would like to refer to it as the age of simply Intelligence.

Where our collective intelligence, the hive, is being streamed into even the most mundane of objects allowing them to become intelligent and to interact with us based on the aggregate of our own interactions with the things around us. We are now fueling the internet with our social lives, our physical lives, and our transactional lives. Leaving privacy behind, so that we may benefit from the personalization that our individual and collective actions afford us.

Today the internet is no longer relegated to a computer with a wire or a wifi signal and a browser, it is now flowing through everything from our watches to our refrigerators and even into our door knobs. Yes, our door knobs are now "intelligent."

Many people may argue over what the proper definition of intelligence is and there are varying degrees of opinions that I will not go into right now but what we can all agree on is that the stuff around us is becoming pretty damn smart and in turn making us smarter. It seems as if we are now almost subconsciously connecting all of the physical objects we interact with all of the digital properties we interact with, making everything around us highly personalized.

Us humans tend to be very protective about what makes us truly unique. Is it our intelligence that puts us at the top of the chain in the animal kingdom? If so it doesn't surprise me that in an age when machines are starting to mimic and even surpass our intellectual abilities we would feel the need to apply the word Artificial in front of the word Intelligence to make it clear to ourselves that this thing that is happening is no threat to our differentiating dominance.

But maybe we need to take a step back and really think about why we feel the need to apply the word Artificial to Intelligence?

This got me thinking about the role of AI and what really sets us apart from the machines that can now mimic much of what we think we are good at.

Maybe intelligence is not what really sets us apart?

Maybe it is something else, like emotion, spirituality, empathy or a heightened freedom of choice that defines us as a species. Perhaps there is nothing really artificial about intelligence at all?

There is no way that I am smart enough to answer any of these questions, I won't even try. But I will end off with this. I started watching the show WestWorld and if you haven't checked it out yet I highly suggest you do (if you are into this sort of thing) the show does a particularly good job at focusing on the tension between artificial and intelligence.

I don't want to spoil the show for anyone so I won't go too deep into the storyline, but it is worth mentioning that this topic of what is artificial and what is intelligent is the central theme of the show and has inspired my own curiosity about what we call artificial.

I would love to hear your perspective on this topic, how do you think Artificial Intelligence has impacted your life and is it something that you feel is threatening to human intelligence or additive?

This content appeared previously on: Chatbots Magazine