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Artificial Intelligence (AI) – So, What’s the Buzz?

Written by Jeff Drake
6 · 16 · 23

Artificial Intelligence (AI) – So, What’s the Buzz?

I think topic will turn into a blog series, as there is much to share!

I truly believe that one would have to be living under a rock for the past year not to have been exposed to some of the buzz in our media about this thing called artificial intelligence (AI). Yet, for many in the general public, this topic gets buried, drowned out amidst the background noise of the information tsunami we are all experiencing. The following are a few reasons people choose to ignore the buzz. See if you can recognize yourself in any of them.

  1. “Too complicated.” Some feel that the topic of artificial intelligence smacks of hard science, which to many means, “difficult to understand,” like math, and so it is ignored.
  2. “Fear.” Yes, fear of artificial intelligence is another reason the subject is ignored, like whistling past a graveyard. After all, most of us have seen movies like “The Terminator” that paint a very clear picture of the worst potential destructive power of AI. Artificial intelligence is an “unknown” to most of us and we humans historically have filled the gaps in our knowledge with boogie men and gods. The stuff of nightmares, indeed.
  3. “Anxiety.” The media is making noise about potential job loss due to artificial technology taking away our livelihoods. For anyone whose major work activity includes tasks like computer programming, writing, driving vehicles, etc., this kind of chatter is unnerving and so people turn away.
  4. “Misunderstanding.” The term, “artificial intelligence” means different things to different people. Many think that artificial intelligence implies sentience, consciousness, thinking like we humans do. Sated with this misunderstanding, their curiosity is stifled to look further into the subject.
  5. “Lack of interest.” Some feel that this is a topic that is just much less interesting then their other pursuits like literature, entertainment, sports, etc.
  6. “Willful ignorance.” There are folks who pride themselves on rejecting and ignoring learning about AI because it’s just more bougie nonsense, mere clickbait for people who like to feel they are smarter than the rest of us.

And the list goes on and on.

Reviewing the list above, I was able to easily place myself as an embarrassed member of “#4 Misunderstanding.” Even as recently as a month ago, I put my foot in my mouth and told someone that apps like ChatGPT[i] weren’t “real” AI because they didn’t have sentience. Like I knew what I was talking about. Luckily, after a few weeks of self-induced immersion-therapy in publicly available AI apps, videos, papers and articles, I find myself finally just beginning to understand what artificial intelligence is, what it isn’t, and more importantly, what it means. And so now, as my increasing knowledge allows me to hastily depart #4 above, I find myself gravitating towards both “#2 Fear,” and “#3 Anxiety.” LOL! However, in my case, misunderstanding, fear, and anxiety aren’t causing me to look away. They are causing me to look deeper.

Why We Should All Learn Something About Artificial Intelligence (AI)

I was initially planning on writing this blog post in such a way that it would gradually build up to a crescendo where I lay out some of the reasons why we should learn about AI. But I’ve decided to instead get a few of these reasons to you first and then explore some of the ins and outs of AI  future posts. This is partly due to a guess on my part that this is the subject most readers are interested in, but also because I feel it is that important, that exciting, and in some ways, that unnerving.

Today, as I sit here writing this blog post, AI is already transforming the world around us. You may be tempted to think, “So what? Another technology revolution. Big deal!” To this I am forced to respond, “Hold on. This is a big deal!” Why? Because what makes the AI revolution different from previous technology revolutions is the speed at which our society, our world, is going to be transformed. You thought the impact of the internet was fast? You haven’t seen anything yet! AI is going to change each of our daily lives.

Some changes as the result of AI are predictable and being written about now, other changes are going to be unpredictable and may end up surprising us all.  Some, if not most, of these changes will be positive, others sadly, will be negative. To take advantage of what the AI industry tells us is in our future as well as to protect ourselves from the potential negative effects of AI gone wrong, we need to make use of the only real tool in our toolshed – information. Like the old adage says, “Forewarned is forearmed!” A very real sea change is in our future. I’m not talking about 30 or 50 years from now. I’m talking about in the next 10 years. Because of this, we need to start learning about it now and then we all need to hang onto our hats, because the AI revolution is not just transformative, it is going to be very “disruptive.”

Disruptive? Yes. For example, the internet was a disruptive technological revolution. It changed damn near everything. Clear signs of the disruptive aspects of the AI revolution can be seen now in fields like photography, for instance. With the latest AI releases from Adobe and others in just the past few months, the entire field of photo editing has exploded and will never be the same! That’s disruptive.

Are you amazed by the Webb telescope pictures? I sure am. NASA uses AI to hone those images, remove cosmic rays, etc. AI and the Webb will continue to radically transform our understanding of the universe for many years to come. That’s disruptive.

How about cars? Self-driving cars use AI-assisted computer vision to drive on the highway. It’s not perfect…yet, but we can all see where it is heading. In 10 years ask a former Amazon or UPS driver if this was disruptive. I suspect he or she will agree.

The hardware components that comprise AI are getting smaller and work at mind-boggling speeds. I recently watched a video on Youtube where the NVIDIA CEO, Jensen Huang, introduces some of the new platforms (a combination of hardware and software) NVIDIA is making that companies are using to not only develop new applications, but vastly improve old applications. At one point he holds one of these platforms in his arms. That’s right, in both arms. It contained over 2 billion transistors! And then these platforms are coupled together, making a larger platform that fills a huge room. Imagine the processing power! Hardware components need to pass data back and forth and so new networks are now being developed to allow this to happen at blinding speeds unthinkable a few years ago. NVIDIA’s graphical processing units are the heart of AI cloud systems today and are expected to grow exponentially.

In the past, things like computers, cell phones, and the internet, became critically important devices to us all due to a combination of hardware and software. Oh, and many, many, hours of work by human programmers and system engineers. And the AI revolution is also a combination of hardware and software. What is different now is that both the hardware and the software are being written and developed by humans – using super computers! Hundreds and thousands of hours of programming work are now being done in minutes and hours. And now, with something called, “machine learning,” used for things like spam detection and fraud detection among many others, computers are learning without even being programmed. That’s right, they are learning on their own.

So to start, one important reason why we should all learn something about AI is that it is, like it or not, becoming pervasive. It is popping up everywhere! The few things I mention above are what I might call high-visibility ways that AI is being used, but AI is also being used in ways that may not be so obvious. For example:

  • In the food industry for development of plant-based alternatives to beef and developing new food safety protocols that can be used to prevent illness, as well as providing personalized dietary recommendations.
  • In the retail industry we will be provided even more personalized shopping experiences. Stores will also be able to manage their inventories much better than in the past, which means saving a lot of money.
  • The medical industry is being revolutionized with the use of AI. Remember Covid-19? Sure. I knew you would. AI was used to develop the vaccines we all use and count our blessings for. It is also being used for cancer detection.
  • The defense of our country is becoming more and more dependent on AI technologies. Things like target identification, weapon guidance, and cybersecurity are obvious places where AI can have an enormous impact. And we should forget about weapon development either. Wars fought by robots are in our future, for sure. Skynet-like technology capabilities are way off in the future, but should be a very real concern to all of us – now.

And the list goes on.

Last, but not least, I recommend that you take the time to get to know and use some of the new AI apps that are available for free to the public. Here’s a list of a few:

  • Google Lens: Google Lens is an AI-powered app that can be used to identify objects, translate text, and find information about the world around you. It is available for both Android and iOS devices.
  • IBM Watson Assistant: IBM Watson Assistant is a chatbot that can be used to provide customer service, answer questions, and complete tasks. It is available for a variety of platforms, including web, mobile, and desktop.
  • Wombo Dream: Wombo Dream is an AI-powered app that can be used to create artistic images from text prompts. It is available for both Android and iOS devices.
  • Perplexity AI: Perplexity AI is an AI-powered app that can be used to generate text, translate languages, and write different kinds of creative content. It is available for both Android and iOS devices.
  • Replika: Replika is an AI-powered chatbot that can be used for companionship and conversation. It is available for both Android and iOS devices.

Missing from the list above are apps powered by a type of AI called a “large language model (LLM).” For example, Amazon Alexa, Siri, and Microsoft Cortana, are voice-activated computer assistance apps powered by LLM AIs. While fun and cool to use, once you start using ChatGPT or Bard, you will see how much better these apps are than Alexa or Siri. I will be discussing these apps more in the next blog post in this series. Note that the companies making computer assistance apps are all planning on evolving them to use LLMs similar to Bard and ChatGPT, vastly improving the experience of users.

In conclusion, I hope that I have instilled in some of you an interest to dip your toe into the ever-deepening AI pool. Learning something about what AI is and how it can, and is being used makes perfect sense to me, if only for our own protection.

[i] ChatGPT is a natural language processing tool driven by AI technology that allows you to have human-like conversations and much more with the chatbot. The language model can answer questions and assist you with tasks, such as composing emails, essays, and code. (ZDNet).

Let us know what you think…

Comments

3 Comments

  1. Gordon Voltz

    Love this stuff…great job

    Reply
      • Gordon Voltz

        With a last name like Voltz and having been born on the very day that the transistor was invented I think there is some sort of destiny involved. And as I mentioned before, my grandson is a top AI guru at a major competitor to Google and Microsoft so it seems only pre-ordained that I am interested in AI – whatever that is. Being retired, at first I didn’t think I’d have much use for it except to have fun with it like becoming the founder of an AI religion (I call it Botulism*). But on further reflection I think that AI really DOES need a set of moral guidelines (hopefully actually superior to human ‘values’). * But, being digital, there are only TWO commandments: thou shalt not spam and thy shall accept cookies

        Reply

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Author

Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.