For some people, artificial intelligence still makes them feel a little…uneasy. It’s often depicted as sinister-looking robots who will take over our lives and our jobs, or even replace humanity.
The reality is, we are already in an age in which AI is infused into our everyday lives in ways that augment rather than replace people. Digital assistants such as Cortana can find you the closest restaurant, dictate a text to your friend, manage your email inbox and even help you create more beautiful PowerPoint presentations. Whether you realise it or not, AI is an integral part of all these interactions. And while it’s not something you can often see or touch, I bet you’re already experiencing the benefits of AI every day.
So, how does AI technology actually work? AI is a machine’s ability to recognise images and words, learn and reason in ways that are similar to people. Data is the fuel for AI, and our world is awash with data as our daily interactions are increasingly digital. AI uses sophisticated algorithms to sort through piles of data, spot patterns and make predictions – tasks that would be repetitive and time-consuming, if not practically impossible, for people to do manually. AI can do this work on our behalf and give us back more of life’s most precious commodity - time.
One fundamental part of AI, which we all use on a daily basis to find information, is search. Search is the intelligence behind digital assistants such as Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa. It’s also the gateway to knowledge on the web and inside the workplace. Every time we interact with search, it’s a ‘signal’ – a new piece of data AI systems can use to reason upon and continue to improve, providing us better, faster, more intelligent insights across our digital world.
Yet AI is doing much more than that – it’s enabling farmers to be more productive by predicting the optimum time to plant crops. It’s recognising the pattern of attacks on technology and protecting computers against detected malware. Scientists are even learning how to treat cancer more effectively because of it. AI is not just improving our quality of life; it’s also helping to save lives.
AI has tremendous potential to help us in our day-to-day lives – and to help society at large tackle some of our biggest challenges. Yet, I also recognise the challenges AI brings around bias, ethics and in some areas job displacement. Despite this, I’m an AI optimist who believes the potential is too great to ignore, and I have faith that society will address the challenges as we advance.
Collaboration is key - the advances we are making in AI won’t happen in a silo. Responsible development and positive progress will happen because of a strong community that works together - it’s why Microsoft is a co-founder of the Partnership on AI and it’s why our researchers regularly collaborate with academics and experts at other research institutions. It’s also why Microsoft has developed industry partnerships with both Amazon and Facebook to make AI more open and accessible to everyone. In addition, it’s why we have published our thoughts and ideas on the challenges AI presents in our book Future Computed.
Ultimately, AI has the potential for remarkable impact in this world and I, for one, am excited about the potential it holds on both a global and local scale. In fact, chances are AI has likely already changed your life for the better - you just didn’t realise it.
Steve Clayton is Microsoft’s chief storyteller