Our family has spent a few months living with Amazon’s Alexa first, and now Google Assistant. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and both give us lots of “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to do that,” messages when we ask them any manner of questions. In other words, they’re far from perfect, and they often end up being the butt of a joke or the recipient of a swearing jag.
These assistants, and the technology that powers them, are in early days— it has only been 3 years since the Echo launched, and Apple’s Siri is just 6 years old (click here for a throwback to a video I did about Siri BEFORE she was bought by Apple!). It’s still up to us to remember the proper command to yield the right answer, or which skills to enable.
All that said, it’s tough to be jaded about the fact that I can stroll into my kitchen, and ask a machine: What’s on my schedule today? Can you add dinosaur kale to my shopping list? Can you turn off the hallway lights? How long will it take to get to the taco shop if we leave now?
In casual english, at a normal volume, I’m having a conversation with a machine, who shares valuable information, and helps me get things done.
Those remarkable interactions, and so many more experiences in all walks of life today, are powered by Artificial Intelligence, or AI, which is being used to help make both online and offline interactions better, faster and more relevant. AI is rapidly advancing thanks to a technique called deep learning, where scientists don’t tell a machine what to do, but rather train it to recognize patterns (this is how Google Photos scans the faces in all your photographs and then learns how to identify you, or your kids, in future pictures).
Even more sophisticated are the “neural networks” that are built inside these machines, that mimic the way our brains handle and process information. Simple operations are handled by one level of network, and more complicated operations are handled by others (kind of like how we use different parts of our brain to handle everything from from breathing to deductive logic).
Whether you use a personal assistant like Alexa or not, Artificial Intelligence is making more things possible, online and in real life, than you might realize. Here are a handful of ways AI is changing our lives:
Making it easier to go green. Without lifting a finger, the AI in your thermostat can help you save serious bank on energy consumption each year— a hands-free way to save the planet while automating your home. Smart thermostats like Nest that learn when you’re home and when you’re not (and adjust the temperature accordingly) or irrigation systems like Rachio that stop the water flow when the forecast calls for rain can run on auto-pilot and make your home more energy-efficient.
Feeding the world. The human population is growing— in 20 years, we’ll have 9.6 billion neighbors on this planet. Global warming, droughts, resistant crop diseases… it’s all going to make feeding the people on this planet harder as time goes on. AI is helping farmers and scientists grow better, healthier food by improving plant breeding and crop management. This tractor uses AI to detect a weed among baby lettuce plants and can kill it with precision, saving the other crops (they call it a Roomba for weeds, LOL!).
Preventing Suicides. Mental health professionals are working with AI engineers at Facebook to search through social posts to find those who might need a little support. “Proactive detection” scans posts for patterns of suicidal thoughts, alerting friends or contacting local first-responders if the worst is feared.
FYI, The Bark app employs AI to help parents identify suicidal language or potential cyberbullying on over 20 social media platforms.
Decreasing Screentime. Those vilified screens can stay in our pockets longer, now that we can converse with AI-powered virtual assistants that live on our countertops like Amazon Echo or Google Home. Think of how many things you can do now— operate your home, order a pizza, book a trip, send a text, call a friend— without getting your phone out? Expect to get a lot chattier with your tech as voice commands get more sophisticated, and responses get more accurate.
Taking over mundane tasks. If you’ve ever tried to schedule a lunch date with a friend you know it often takes so many “that time doesn’t work for me, how about this one?” emails until you just feel like calling the whole thing off. Scheduling assistants like Clara or X.ai use Artificial Intelligence to converse with your lunch date, while checking your calendar for openings, until the lunch is scheduled (all while you were doing more important things).
Rooting out cyberbullying. Social media companies are using AI to come to the rescue of cyberbullying victims. Instagram’s machine learning sifts through billions of Instagram posts and comments, finding and removing hostile remarks from people’s feeds (the commenter doesn’t see their comment removed, so they don’t try to get around the filters and keep victimizing— brilliant!).
Improving Healthcare. Myriad companies are using AI to do everything from improve quality of life for patients with chronic conditions, to increase efficiency in hospital emergency rooms, so more patients can be seen. As more wearables (like smartwatches, and even earbuds) can provide real-time data about patients, doctors can adjust treatment and make suggestions to make patients healthier
Did you know that Artificial Intelligence was behind all those things? Are there other ways that AI affects you personally? Let me know in the comments!