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  • Kathy Wilson

The Rise of AI – How It’s Changing Our World

So let’s talk about artificial intelligence. Poised to first disrupt and then transform our world, it is today’s “next big thing.” Everyone is talking about it, but what is it and is it really so new?

Looking back just a few short years, we’ve gone from rotary phones and punch cards to smartphones, laptops, and supercomputers. No longer having to find a phone booth to make a call, get directions, or look something up, smart hand-held devices with incredible amounts of compute power are literally in our pockets 24/7. And where no machine could reliably provide language or image recognition at a human level, we are now seeing hints about what that technology can do as it recognizes images and speaks to us in our own language.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Traditional programs follow a set of instructions to perform particular tasks. Many of these are highly complex and they require a skilled programmer to write out every step in the process. AI, on the other hand, describes a machine that can mimic human intelligence and is self-learning. It combines raw compute power and machine learning with vast amounts of information to seemingly think for itself, learn from experience, perform tasks, and in some cases do them better than we can. There are AI programs that can think for us and carry on conversations with us, drive our cars, power robots around our factories, assess our health, and deliver up content in seconds rather than hours or days. In short, AI systems have become increasingly useful and powerful as they move into the everyday fabric of our lives.

From Conception to Market

Since its inception, AI has been lurking in the shadows just waiting to break into the mainstream. Starting in the 1950s, we can see how AI applications coupled with machine learning (a type of AI that allows computers to learn without being explicitly programmed) have slowly evolved into the powerful engine driving many technology and engineering solutions today. Think about industrial robotics, military drones, speech recognition systems, and Google searches, as well as big data, deep learning, neural networks, and natural language processing.

AI History – a Walk Down Memory Lane

1950s to Now

  • The earliest successful AI programs were written in 1951 by Christopher Strachey (who wrote a checkers program), and by Dietrich Prinz (who wrote one for chess). Referred to as Game AI, both eventually achieved sufficient skill to challenge a respectable amateur and caught the attention of computer scientists across the globe.

  • In 1961, the first industrial robot, Unimate, joined the assembly line at a General Motors plant to work with heated die-casting machines.

  • In 1985 according to the American Journal of Robotic Surgery, the first robot (the Westinghouse PUMA 200) was used to perform a brain biopsy procedure, opening up medicine to the possibility of AI innovation.

  • In the late 1990s, Web crawlers made an appearance. AI-based programs that extract information from the World Wide Web, they have become essential in driving its widespread use.

  • The 1990s also saw the virtual pet boom with the release of popular virtual pets such as Tamagotchi and Furby.

  • In 1997, Deep Blue was the chess-playing computer developed by IBM that defeated the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, making global headlines.

  • In 1999, Sony introduced AIBO, the first artificially intelligent "pet" that was also autonomous.

  • In the 2000s, speech recognition technology became increasingly accurate and reliable. This led to the development of new products and services, such as voice-activated assistants and hands-free calling.

  • In 2002, the Roomba vacuum cleaner, an autonomous robot that could clean floors without human intervention, was one of the first robotic consumer products to receive widespread user acceptance.

  • In 2009, Grammarly and early Microsoft Word correction came out using AI to aid with content creation and editing.

Consider the Possibilities

AI has been over 70 years in the making with many essential innovations leading to its current state. In this series of blogs, we thought we’d take a deep dive to explore some of the ways AI is poised to both enable and disrupt our lives. What are the most exciting developments on the horizon? How will emerging AI technologies make us smarter, more productive, and our lives more fulfilling? How can all of this power be harnessed for good? And what are its dangers if used without any guardrails or by bad actors with nefarious agendas and evil intent?

We hope you’ll come along for this wild ride as we uncover more fascinating facts about AI in future installments of this series.

Bard, Google's AI, was used for some of the research content on this blog.
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