On the path to Artificial Intelligence

October 6, 2013 at 11:55 pm 1 comment

When I think of the distant future, I think about robots and not of the ones from the movies that usually end badly for mankind. I like to be a tad bit more optimistic and think of a different sort that will help us achieve efficiency in ways we never could imagine. This may seem distant however we are much closer than you think. Many of the mechanics are currently at our disposal although the unfortunate part is we lack the one piece that puts all of our wonderful technological advances into motion. We need a BRAIN!


The human brain itself is a very powerful computer. It doesn’t use the same methods your laptop utilizes but it is achieving many of the same goals. It makes decisions based from inputs it receives. If you touch something that is hot, your brain forces your body to respond. If I double click my Google Chrome icon, the computer responds by opening the browser. This idea gave birth to the study of artificial intelligence (AI) although the idea of an intelligent machine has been around for a very long time. The problem is that there is a large leap from a simple instruction such as opening a program in which you are the one providing the decision’s result and what our brains can do with the great magnitude of inputs it can interpret.

Most AI researchers define AI as “the study and design of intelligent agents” where the intelligent agents are a system that can perceive its environment and act accordingly. This is something our computers can do on a much lower scale. One method is a simple concept called a decision tree. It starts by answering a simple general question and begins to narrow down actions by making further more descriptive decisions based on the previous choice. The problem is that even with our massive ability to compute information, we still find ourselves lacking. The possible outcomes a human can reach from just sitting on a couch make this tree expand rapidly and outside of our computational reach. Our machines simply are not fast enough to process this information in a efficient setting such as a home computer or the brain in a small robot.


Computer scientist are and have been working on many different methods to create an artificially intelligent machine and solve these computational problems. A more recent technology aims to solve one of the biggest difficulties our computers face. The best way to understand the problem is to think about when you were a small child and counted using your fingers. You could make it to 10 but a new problem presented itself at 11. You only have 10 fingers and anything additional required you to now remember how many you had used before. A computer only has two fingers represented as a 0 and 1. We can accomplish great task using these two fingers but there are limits. For this reason computer scientist and engineers are developing the concept of quantum computing. The computer still only has two fingers but now instead of just 0 or 1, it can be both 0 and 1. The details are somewhat tricky but the end result is that we have much faster computers to tackle this complex task.

Computer speed is not the only adversary of an intelligent machine but it is one of the major difficulties. Once we work out the problems with computing and achieve something very close to true AI, the world will be an incredibly different place. Robots have no need to sleep, have low probability of error, and require little maintenance. We could have machines to fight crime, put out fires, build buildings, and save lives with near perfect efficiency and no risk to ourselves. There is still much work to be done, and you could even be the one to find a new method that solves the problems behind possibly the greatest invention humanity has to offer.


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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. philprof  |  October 7, 2013 at 12:44 am

    One form of AI is beginning to show up in the automotive industry now–self-parking cars, cars that anticipate a frontal crash and apply the brakes, and so on. It is expected that completely self-driving cars will be licensed and on the road within the next decade. While a self-driving car would probably be much safer, I wonder whether people would want to give up control of their car. No more fun cutting people off, or speeding up to go through the yellow light, or showing off by weaving furiously through traffic. What do YOU think? Leave a comment if you want to say something about this.


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