What is an Artificial Intelligence? Digital Challenge for dummies

Not only robots and sci-fi, Artificial Intelligence is upon us. SIRI, self-driving cars, solar panels in the middle of the ocean or innovative healthcare applications, these tools are developing fast and they are already part of our everyday life.

A press officer poses with 'Pepper' the Humanoid Robot in London, Britain, April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
A press officer poses with 'Pepper' the Humanoid Robot in London, Britain, April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay


AI stands for artificial intelligence and in the IT field it refers to machines designed to simulate human behavior, both in terms of its actions and reactions. AI falls under two categories:

  • Strong Vs Weak artificial intelligence: the strong variety is extremely rare and imitates human actions; it is helpful in understanding how humans think, the weak kind acts in the same manner as humans but is not required to use the same thought processes.
  • Narrow Vs General artificial intelligence: the narrow sort performs certain specific tasks, while the general kind is built to address the rationale behind specific tasks.

What are the advantages?

AI can complete mundane tasks through complex automation, increasing productivity and leaving us free to do creative jobs. We can make faster decisions with AI and cognitive technologies and reduce human error, because computer error is very rare even when processing huge datasets. Artificial Intelligences can take risks on behalf of humans, for example in the space exploration of Mars, in accurate medical diagnoses or during extractive explorations.

What are the disadvantages?

Massive recourse to AI will make many low-skilled jobs redundant. AI usage will create wealth, but whether it can be evenly or fairly distributed throughout society is less certain. Above all, machines do not have “human” judgement. For example, Uber’s ride rates change as a function of demand, but during emergency situations like a terrorist attack, when everyone is fleeing from the attack site, the app doesn’t take this into account in fixing its prices. This event happened in real life in 2014, during a shooting in Sydney.

Future goals

In the near future, researchers want to keep the benefits of AI adoption in many areas, from economics and law to technical topics such as verification, security and control.

The long-term objectives are an ethical challenge: what if strong AI becomes an improvement over human cognitive system? The future lethal robot weapons, the new kinds of jobs or even a jobless and totally automated society are problems we have to consider.

Clearly, artificial intelligence has massive potential and can be the key for human development; however, we will have to use our own judgement to apply it productively and ensure the “rise of the robots” doesn’t get out of hand.


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