Pop culture has planted an image of artificial intelligence in humanity’s collective consciousness—and it is not a very pleasant one. In Hollywood, AI is rarely benevolent; most of the time it is out to end humanity for good, and if not, it is indifferently watching our demise.
Luckily, real AI is very different from the way it is described in science fiction. The algorithms used today represent a faster, better, and smarter means of processing data and finding correlations. AI is already used in many areas, from business and startups to entertainment, and even AI-powered online roulette. Its unseen force is already making our lives easier and we often do not even know it.
If you’re an email user, you most likely spend quite some time each day deleting all the unsolicited messages you receive—spam, in short. Most of the spam you receive is pretty overt. There are, more often than not, sneakier messages that are mistaken for “proper” mail.
Gmail’s spam filter is pretty good at detecting these messages thanks to its machine learning algorithms introduced years ago.
Aside from catching almost all spam messages, Gmail also makes use of machine learning to sort incoming emails into one of its four tabs. This offers users the opportunity to reply with simple, but relevant, messages (like “Let’s do it!”) to emails with one click or tap.
First, there was asking for directions. Next, we started using maps to find our way through unknown lands. Then, we switched to GPS-powered software to take us from point A to point B in the most efficient manner. And with the quantity of available information growing, these, too, have become smarter.
The navigation apps that dwell on our smartphones make use of machine learning to conform to our preferences, learn the levels of traffic of our routes at different times of the day, and artificial intelligence to recommend the best route to our destination taking into account any potential accidents, filters, and traffic jams.
Finally, let’s take a look at an area where AI will play an ever-increasing role in our increasingly information-hungry digital world: news reporting. Don’t expect algorithms to write opinion pieces just yet, but their role in everyday reporting is already pretty important.
“Algorithmic journalism” uses AI software to produce news stories at a speed no human editor can match. Quakebot, an algorithm that keeps an “eye” on earthquakes in Los Angeles, reported the 2014 California earthquake within three minutes after the shaking stopped.
The algorithms take the information and process it into a human-readable format based on a database of pre-programmed article structures. Their output can then be customized to fit the tone or the style of a certain publication.
StatSheet (now Automated Insights) used to run a website covering Division 1 college basketball in the US that had all its content generated by algorithms. The company, along with some of its competitors, now provides automated journalism algorithms to outlets like Forbes, the LA Times, and Associated Press. And Microsoft is transitioning to automated journalism on MSN.com. The news outlet has reportedly cut dozens of news editor jobs, replacing them with a journalist algorithm.
Whereas Hollywood might like us to think AI is a big “Skynet” evil lurking behind every monitor, it has really integrated into our daily lives in surprising, and helpful, ways.