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An introduction to artificial intelligence

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AI is progressing fast these days, due to increased computing power and modern learning algorithms. We can find artificial intelligence-based modules and software in phones, cars, intelligent vacuum cleaners, chess playing devices, smart fridges, airport security screening systems, and so on. Companies utilize AI applications to design chatbots which can successfully replace customer support operators, while some governments make use of artificial intelligence programs to design controversial, autonomous weapons.

Some of the earliest AI applications included software that tried (and frankly, most of the time failed) to mimic real-life human conversation. Fortunately, artificial intelligence has significantly improved since then, and many of the devices that utilize it make use of advanced machine learning algorithms to improve themselves while we are sleeping. This can be a scary thought, especially if we take into consideration the fact that systems which perform recursive self-improvement tasks can quickly leave us behind. So, it may be wise to align the AI's goals with ours before the machines get too smart and run out of control.

This scenario may seem a bit too dark, but let's not forget that people are already using artificial intelligence for nefarious purposes. Autonomous weapons are created and programmed with the goal of killing people, so an AI-based war could have disastrous consequences, leading to mass casualties.

Sadly, even an AI system that is programmed to help people may start to use inappropriate methods to achieve its goal. What if you told your self-driving car that you need to get to your mom as quickly as possible? Will it run at its maximum speed to get you there or not? And what happens if there is a bug in its program, or if a hacker has taken control over it? These are all very serious questions that need to be answered before we allow AI-based hardware and software to control our lives. Several tech leaders have already expressed their concerns about the possible implications of a future in which AI plays a key role.

However, if we take the time to plan all its consequences, artificial intelligence can be of great help for us. To begin with, robots can successfully take care of boring, repetitive tasks, while maintaining a 100% reliability and without getting tired. And by analyzing the available data sets, AI systems can help us take better decisions, no matter if we are talking about industrial equipment that boosts productivity, applications that help us purchase the best stocks, medical devices that can read X-rays and identify tumors, and so on.

Artificial intelligence has its limits, of course. It needs to learn before taking the right decisions, for example. If the learning samples/patterns are limited, the outcome will not be that pretty. And if the data sets are corrupted, including faulty records, they will decrease accuracy.

Still, by making use of machine learning, AI systems can draw intelligent conclusions on their own. Neural networks play a big part, using their "neurons" (interconnected units) to process the existing info. The process is run several times, allowing the software to discover the connections between the various data records, and thus make sense of the information.

Deep learning systems take the learning process to the next level, utilizing huge neural networks to extract complex patterns from vast amounts of data. Most speech recognition applications, computer vision systems, language translation programs, etc. make use of deep learning.

Huge corporations are investing a lot of money in AI, because it has the potential to help solve many of their business-related problems. Automated financial assets management solutions, reliable fraud detection systems and accurate medical diagnosis software are just a few of the applications that have greatly benefited from artificial intelligence's recent advancements.