Here's Why Artificial Intelligence Isn't As Scary As It Sounds

Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock.
Welcome to What the Tech?!, Refinery29's weekly column explaining the basics behind a buzzword or concept you've heard tossed around in conversation (but maybe don't actually understand).

At this rate, artificial intelligence might just be the buzziest buzzword of 2016. It drums up pop culture images of brainiac computers and deadly terminators bent on humanity's destruction. But at its most essential, AI is decidedly less Hollywood.

When you hear the phrase used today, AI usually references a machine that, thanks to its coding, can learn and evolve based on its experiences. Hopefully, that evolution ends up making the machine more accurate and more useful...but that's not always the case.

There are varying degrees of intelligence among AIs in the same way there are different types of intelligences among living things. A digital assistant, such as Cortana or Google Now, learns from your interactions and behaviors, so it presents you with information (weather, traffic, and news, for example) that seem most relevant based on your location, commuting behaviors, and past clicks. Google's AlphaGo robot, programmed with expert knowledge of Go, a popular chess-like Asian game, can use that information to successfully play the game.

Other AIs are more simple, recognizing and enhancing a portion of an image (and then doing it over and over again until it becomes a veritable work of art). Still others use natural language processing to improve their understanding of human speech and converse.

An AI improves through what's called "machine learning," which is now used in a ton of different industries and applications. It's especially good at sorting through large sets of data and identifying patterns or anomalies — a task that would take a human ages to review. Machine learning is different from automation, however. With automation, a machine does the same task over and over again; with machine learning, while repetition is involved, so is decision making.

Could an AI take over the world? At this point, that's very unlikely, although it is possible that an AI gone awry could seriously mess up a digital system it controlled. For now, it's more human error, not robotic malice, that we need to worry about.
Advertisement

More from Tech

You may start to notice your Uber drivers snapping a lot of selfies, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you're riding with an Instagram addict. Your ...
Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel announced that the company has developed new video-enabled sunglasses, called Spectacles, and will subsequently be rebranding ...
You're at 20,000 feet, and you realize your flight doesn’t have WiFi — which wouldn't be a big deal, except you forgot your book at home, and none of your ...
GENERATION STARTUP presents Women In Tech, an episode of an exclusive web series with footage left on the cutting room floor. The feature documentary ...
It's a sad but true fact that a bad commute — one where you just miss the bus or subway — has the power to ruin your day. More often than not, these near...
When you think of playing a video game, what comes to mind? Is it a raucous game of Wii Bowling when you were in college? Hours spent on your Game Boy ...
If you're a Yahoo user (or ever have been), you'll want to change your password ASAP — and not just on that Yahoo account. Today, the company confirmed ...
(Paid Content) Refinery29 is now on Versy, a messaging and content-sharing app made for busy people like us
There are two types of people in this world: the zero-inbox purists, and the ones with hundreds (or even thousands) of unread messages in their inbox. ...
It may seem like your car hasn't let you down. But apparently, all these years, you've been driving a vehicle suited for the wrong gender. At least that's ...
The iPhone 7 may not be a mystery anymore, but the hype surrounding it is far from gone. Now that we know what it looks like (hello, new camera) and what's...
Without a doubt, dating in 2016 is an art form. If you’re single and looking for love, you know where the scene is. It’s online. (Unless you’ve made it ...
Instagram's latest update includes a tool that's ideal for every perfectionist — or anyone who spends time editing a photo in the app, only to get ...
I was doing my usual routine of scrolling through Instagram while eating my lunch when I saw a truly disturbing image: The now-10-year-old boy I used to ...