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8 March, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Global race for artificial intelligence

AI has set off an economic and technological competition, which will intensify further
Munish Sharma
Global race for artificial intelligence

British science fiction writer and futurist, Arthur C. Clarke once said, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Artificial Intelligence (AI) brings in a host of real-world applications which had earlier merely been a subject of science fiction novels or movies. AI empowered cars are already under rigorous testing and they are quite likely to ply on the roads soon. The social humanoid robot Sophia became a citizen of Saudi Arabia in 2017. Apple’s intelligent personal assistant, Siri, can receive instructions and interact with human beings in natural language. Autonomous weapons can execute military missions on their own, identify and engage targets without any human intervention. In the words of John McCarthy, AI, is the “science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs”. As a burgeoning discipline of computer science, AI enables intelligent machines that can execute functions, similar to human abilities like speech, facial, object or gesture recognition, learning, problem solving, reasoning, perception and response.

The term AI was coined in 1956, and the early research in the 1950s was confined to problem solving and symbolic methods. The interest of the US Department of Defense led it towards mimicking basic human reasoning during the 1960s.1 The use of ‘neural networks’ dominated the period from 1950 to 1970s. AI research further graduated towards ‘machine learning’ algorithms from 1980s till around 2010. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) developed intelligent personal assistants in 20032 , long before Siri, Alexa or Cortana came into existence. AI has made inroads to automation and decision support systems to complement or augment human abilities. The technology of AI in the present times is witnessing ‘deep learning’. The futuristic applications such as self-driving cars rely heavily on deep learning and natural language processing. As an emerging technology segment, deep learning uses neural networks and leverages advancing computing power to detect complex patterns in large data sets. Strides in supercomputing and Big Data analytics are further enhancing AI applications relating to advanced training or learning.

AI enables machines to think intelligently, somewhat akin to the intelligence human beings employ to learn, understand, think, decide, or solve a problem in their daily personal or professional lives. Intelligence is intangible. The present generation of computing systems perform generation, storage and analysis of data. AI enhances the ability of computer systems to learn from their experiences over time, makes them capable of reasoning, perceiving relationships and analogies, helps solve problems, as well as respond in natural languages and adapt to new conditions. AI as an ensemble of a wide spectrum of disciplines from computer science, biology, linguistics and mathematics etc., allows machines to sense and comprehend their surroundings and act according to their own intelligence or learning.3 These intelligent machines, with the explosion of digital data and augmenting computational power, employ advanced algorithms to enable collaborative and natural interactions between human beings and machines to extend the human ability to sense, learn and understand.4

Post Second World War, research interests of militaries intensified in the domains of cryptography and computing, which gave the necessary thrust to AI. In 1950, Alam Turing, a mathematician at Cambridge University, raised the much relevant question “Can machines think?”5 His anticipation of today’s machine learning and deep learning, along with the seminal work of Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts in artificial neural networks, is foundational to AI. More than six decades ago, the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence in 1956, created AI as a research discipline.6 Backed by military interests and funding in the initial decades, AI further matured in the academic environment at Massachusetts Institute of Technology7 , Carnegie Mellon University8 , and Stanford9 , institutions which continue to hold the top rankings in AI research, amongst others.

The present wave of enthusiasm in AI is backed by the industry, with Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft and Baidu in the lead. Automotive industry is also unleashing benefits of AI for self-driving cars, led by Tesla, Mercedez-Benz, Google and Uber. Prominent advances have been made in facial recognition and verification, with algorithms developed by Google for GoogLeNet, Facebook for DeepFace and Microsoft asFace API for Azure. Facial detection has instated deep interest from law enforcement and security agencies. China is known to be building a massive facial recognition system, connected with its surveillance camera networks, to assist in detecting criminals and fugitives.

Automotive industry is already using AI algorithms to enhance fuel efficiency and safety in vehicles to build features such as automatic braking, collision avoidance systems, alerts for pedestrian and cyclists, and intelligent cruise controls. AI is also helping insurance providers arrive at better risk assessment.

While private enterprises are using AI in their IT functions, technology companies are charting out the plans to extend the applications to marketing, customer service, finance, human resources and strategic planning.

The writer is Consultant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses India



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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