Siri is about as close as Apple gets to artificial intelligence and we’ve had the personal assistant on our iPhones since iOS 5 and the iPhone 4s. Since then, commercial competitors have crawled out of the walls to one-up Apple’s famous AI character– Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s whatever-name-it-has-now– and they all have one thing in common.
They don’t do too much.
What they do varies a bit here and there so all of them have a few parlor tricks that their competitors do not do. Google Now has been around a few years less than Siri but works much the same way. Query, then response. Siri works on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Watch, so approximately 1-billion devices have access to the technology.
Likewise, Cortana and Google Now are available on a billion or so devices, too. Amazon’s new Echo device houses Alexa, on perhaps 5-million devices (a guesstimate by those who guess; Amazon never announces actual numbers because they are so low the company would be embarrassed by public knowledge).
All of these personal assistant devices are the forerunners of artificial intelligence front ends. As new functionality and capability are created, they will improve their responses, and become more active with built-in actions.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence exhibited by machines. In computer science, an ideal “intelligent” machine is a flexible rational agent that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of success at some goal.
So, AI becomes somewhat self aware and environmentally aware, and should or can perform specific functions based upon both programming functionality and learning.
Colloquially, the term “artificial intelligence” is applied when a machine mimics “cognitive” functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as “learning” and “problem solving”
One issue to remember is that AI is a very broad term that goes well beyond Siri, Cortana, and Alexa as helpful little bots that answer questions and gather information or perform specific functions. There are all kinds or classes of AI– narrow AI, general AI, and strong AI, each with their own restrictions and options. Add Siri to a self-driving, mostly autonomous vehicle, and AI takes on a useful purpose of substantial importance, but with a familiar voice.
For now, AI doesn’t do much for us as individuals. Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Google Now and others being brought to market are learning as much as they help. Otherwise, they don’t help that much. But we know that changes each year as the technology progresses.
The myth is that AI will change everything for the better and one can argue that segments of modern technology have been so disruptive as to harm people’s lives. Stock brokers displaced by computers that make better and faster trades and superior recommendations come to mind. The same can be said of auto workers who lost their jobs due to the influx of robotics which performed better for less expense.
There’s also a myth that only luddites worry about AI. All of us should be worried because we don’t know what an AI future could bring. AI could turn evil or become sentient. Myth or fact? AI won’t be able to control humans. Myth or fact? Yet, humans control animals (perhaps better than we control people). Machines do not have objectives. Myth or fact? Yet, we program machines to perform specific functions all the time.
For now, the AI we know and love as exemplified by Siri and others, seems harmless enough to the point of being friendly, but these examples also don’t do much. When should we start to worry? After AI can do anything a human can do? Or, before?