AI….it’s something I’ve always been fascinated by since I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey as a boy. HAL really made for an interesting introduction to artificial intelligence. Standing for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer, HAL was an AI system that controlled the spacecraft and could converse, think, and feel for himself (or itself). I became more enthralled by AI when I saw BladeRunner and it only continues to this day after just watching the movie Ex Machina (it’s freaking awesome!!). But is artificial intelligence on the web a real possibility? Like true AI? Maybe…there are some people out there imagining the possibilities including Kurzweil and CSAIL, two sites dedicated to artificial and agent-based intelligence. But how far off is such a monumental accomplishment? And what does it mean for the world wide web?
Let’s take a look at some repercussions, mainly known as the Singularity, it’s the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence will trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization. In short, what we all saw happen in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Hasta La Vista, Baby! Now, this would obviously suck, big time! But there are other areas that AI would impact, just not to that extreme. Human jobs would be eliminated, probably a lot of them and they might raise our children (just watch the BBC drama Humans).
The flip side is the good; simple around the house tasks like cleaning, cooking, and doing laundry would be taken care of for us, leaving your weekends open to go do what you want. Website building will be easy, almost effortless with AI (more on this to come!). There wouldn’t be any more accidents on the roads and highways (hopefully!).
Artificial Intelligence and its short existence
First, what is it? AI is trying to get a computer to think, and eventually feel. There’s a difference between types of AI. There’s Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), which specializes in one area, like chess. I’m sure you’ve seen the computer and mechanical arm beating some of the world’s greatest chess masters. Then there’s Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) that’s defined as a computer that is as smart as a human across the board. And finally, Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) which is a computer that is totally superior than the smartest humans in every conceivable way imaginable – this is the ‘end of world’ AI.
AI really started taking shape in the 50’s when the field of artificial intelligence was founded as an academic discipline. Alan Turing (you know him from CAPTCHA – I’ll explain later) published a landmark paper where he wrote about the possibility of creating machines that think. He made a point to say that “thinking” is difficult to define and devised the Turing Test. If you remember CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.
Scientist then used programs based off of similar algorithms to achieve some goal, like beating a chess player or proving a math theory. Known as “reasoning as search” computers would search until they figured something out or hit a dead-end and back-tracked. Then came micro-worlds, natural language, and symbolic reasoning. If you’re that thrilled, just check out the Wikipedia page on The History of Artificial Intelligence.
We fast forward through the 80’s and 90’s where lack of funding really hurt the advancement of AI, but certain groups were still researching and testing. In the 90’s, we see the emergence “intelligent agents” which is defined as a system that perceives its environment and takes action which maximizes its chances of success. Think of customer help desks or personal shopping assistants, it’s software that assists and acts on the user’s behalf. The invention of digitized personal assistants like iPhone’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana was a huge leap on the quest for true artificial intelligence.
Artificial Intelligence building websites…
You may be surprised to hear that the research and testing into AI has solved many technological problems of the 21st century including things like web browser intelligence, Google’s search engine, data mining, robotics, and more. But over this last year, specifically, we’ve seen an outburst of “artificial intelligence” website builders.
These website builders, like TheGrid and Wix ADI, claim to have AI that helps in designing and building a website for you. Now, if you are familiar with website design and development, there’s a certain process for making that happen. Most sites are built by designing the page, developing it using a markup language like HTML, and then adding in the content including images and text. But sometimes the content can make a page look bad or a little off, well AI website builders are supposed to change all that.
Straight from TheGrid’s website “our algorithms expertly analyze your media and apply color palettes that keep your messaging consistent and unique. The Grid also detects color contrasts, automatically adjusting typography color to maximize legibility.” – It seems pretty cool. They say “goodbye to templates, hello to layout filters.” I’m interested in this concept because I’m a web strategist, and anything that helps design scale is something worth looking into.
The Wix ADI claims to ask the user a “few simple questions, and the ADI designs tailored websites by learning about each person’s or business’ own needs. Next, choosing from billions of high-quality, stunning combinations and possibilities…” Well, I gotta say, I’m interested in this. They claim to build sites in minutes. Looks like I’ll be spending my next week on playing around with these things.
I’m still not convinced because in the realm of true AI, even AGI, this is but a wish. However, it still helps get closer to the end game. I’m really not sure how TheGrid or Wix ADI operates or builds its backend system, it’s proprietary, obviously!
Artificial Intelligence on the web…
If we look at other intelligent agents on the web like Chatbots, we’ll see that we are inching closer to true AI. PandoraBots is a service that builds and deploys chatbots. Do you have a website where you store a lot of information, or would like to get information from your visitors? Well, chatbots might be the answer for you. They’re basically conversational interfaces that you can integrate into other applications, just check out ALICEbot.
We also have Siri and Cortana, these are our personal intelligent agent assistants. We ask them where to find a good restaurant, how to get from Westminster to College Hill, what’s the latest news, we ask them what zero divided by zero is (just ask Siri the question!). We treat them like they are our friends, we ask them too because we’re desperate for validation. They politely reply with “of course, I’m your friend, Adam.” And for most of it, they get a lot of stuff right, they give good recommendations, the traffic wasn’t that bad, they explained why zero can’t be divided by zero in a really easy to understand way. But they still can’t think for themselves, they think for us. Viv, apparently the new AI assistant, seems to have better reviews than Siri. Allegedly, it integrates with different third parties to complete tasks like shopping for you and booking your hotel reservation.
Look at the web as a whole, the internet. It’s made up of all these different computers and servers, some owned by universities, private corporations, government bodies, etc. The only entity looking over this is the world wide web consortium, but they really put forth a set of principles. The internet and the web have grown into what it is today organically, not to mention darknets and the Dark Web. All these different moving parts, hardware and software, can talk to each other, integrate with each other. That’s pretty awesome!
Technologies that aid Artificial Intelligence…
Affectiva, a company that leverages facial recognition software, is leading the way in emotional AI. They help kids with autism, gamers, and people who want to analyze the facial expressions of certain photos. The human face has all these tiny little micro-expressions that can reveal your true emotional state. Now imagine this software was on an iPhone, couple that with Siri (or the new Viv) and the owner of the iPhone was in grave danger. It could register fear and dial 911. Or helping a severely depressed 16 year old. Or taking a picture of you at your happiest moment of the day. The possibilities are pretty wide spread.
What about virtual reality? Remember a few years back Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus, the VR software. Whatever happened with that? Well, think of the possibilities there. If we want to get really crazy, in a few decades we could be sitting in our living room with those goggles on partaking in a virtual reality. I’m waiting for someone to put all these technologies together; Siri or Viv, facial recognition software, language recognition software, virtual reality, and the internet. Now we’re talking!
My thoughts on true artificial intelligence…
Well, I hope true artificial intelligence happens. I’m not sure it ever will though. Why? Because if it does, and we cross that threshold, bad things could happen. Imagine you make an intelligent being and their only purpose is to serve us, the humans. If they ever cross the barrier of being smarter than us, true super intelligence, then yes, I believe Singularity is a real possibility. There’s a reason why so many of those movies turn out bad, lol!
On the other side of that argument is the advancement of technology. I think people and scientists will keep striving for it, and it’ll be a really interesting day when we’re all introduced to HAL. But hopefully this time he won’t think that our existence is jeopardizing his own. The reality is this; that once we give a machine the ability to think for itself, we’ll never know what any of them are thinking. Just like the people we see everyday, a few think bad things then do bad things. Most people, though, are pretty awesome! So why wouldn’t machines be too?