Picture this: a brand new, one-of-a-kind, all-the-bells-and-whistles media device. Its internal storage offers 2.5 petabytes (or 2.5 million GB), its camera is over 526MP, and it can send 20 million billion messages every second. Best of all, it’s absolutely free.
Want to know where you can get your hands on one? You already have. The human brain.
There’s no denying that as a species, the human race is fairly impressive. Your brain has approximately 100 billion neurons, which are the nerve cells that process chemicals to send messages around your body. Each one of those neurons transmits a message 200 times per second, to 1,000 other neurons it’s connected to. Multiply that up, and you’ll find that your brain sends 20 million billion bits of information every single second. Multiply that up to a minute, and you’ve got 1,200 million billion messages. Let’s not even attempt to work out how many you get in a day, or a year.
Then let’s take a look at the eye. According to Ron at DPReview, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many megapixels the eye has, because it doesn’t capture still images. Instead, the eye is constantly moving and constantly taking in different details around us, and as a result the picture created in our brain consists of more pixels than the retina actually offers. Ron’s example uses the ‘conservative’ example of 120° field of view, which would give us 526 megapixels; in reality, the human eye field of view is much greater, and hence so would be the eye’s MP.
As for your brain’s internal storage, it’s thought to have the same capacity as up to 156,250 16GB phones. That’s a heck of a lot of apps. But at what point do we need to be concerned about our technology catching us up?
What is Artificial Intelligence?
AI – or artificial intelligence – is the “intelligence exhibited by machines or software.” The field is described as “the study and design of intelligent agents” which takes in observations through sensors and acts upon its environment, in a similar way that you or I would. Does anyone remember the chatbots you could talk to on MSN? These bots were able to maintain basic conversations, understanding your reply and responding to you. Admittedly, these responses were fairly limited, and more often than not the bot told you it didn’t understand what you’d said, but this was the fairly early stages of AI becoming more mainstream.
Fast forward to 2015, and instead these days we have our very own ‘personal assistants’ incorporated into our phones. iPhones have Siri, Androids have Google Now, and Windows have Cortana. Each of these smartphone features has been programmed to listen to what you say, perform the necessary tasks, and report back to you; sometimes they can even hold basic conversations. (There are few things more fun in life than asking Siri to marry you. Honest.) These companies are in their own ever-evolving race to create the best personal assistant, giving their phones the edge over all the rest; as of recently, one of Windows’ main selling points has been that Cortana is much smarter than Siri or Google Now. Whilst ever the technology giants are competing, these programmes will continue to develop and improve.
Aside from smartphones, this technology is everywhere. Robots use AI for physical movements, video games with an option to play against your computer are ‘thinking’ for themselves, and once upon a time even your calculator would have been considered to be artificial intelligence! More often than not, we don’t fully recognise the development in these areas because they’re ongoing and the ‘norm’, but AI is omnipresent in our day-to-day lives.
The Worry with AI
The main concerns surround artificial intelligence are twofold: firstly, what if it catches up to our intelligence? Many a film plot has already been centred around the concept of humankind being at war with the very robots they created, and for some scientists this threat is a reality. Ray Kurzweil believes that in less than 15 years’ time, computers will be smarter than humans; not only will they be able to do maths quicker than us and be more efficient at finding directions, but they’ll also start to take on human attributes such as the ability to tell jokes, learn from experiences, and even flirt. Not long after he began working at Google in 2012, Google began purchasing a large number of robotics companies, including DeepMind, Boston Dynamics, and Meka Robotics. When the man in charge of the laboratory warns you there’s problems ahead, you tend to sit up and listen. No one seems to have a solid answer as to what we’d do if these robots became aggressive or began to ‘act out’. Both Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking have also voiced their concerns over robots becoming an existential threat to humans, although they believe it will take decades for this to happen.
Secondly, and more imminently, will AI put us out of work? The more we enable machines to think for themselves, the less we are required to do jobs manually. In the same way the Industrial Revolution saw many people out of work, the more we rely on these machines, the worse this issue gets. A simple example of this would be monitors in an industrial kitchen during food production; these can take temperatures, check stock, monitor ovens, all on their own and then adjust accordingly… instead of employing someone to do each of those tasks. There’s a fine balance between AI making our lives easier and it having a negative impact on society, one that needs constant fine-tuning and we may get wrong from time to time.
On the flip side, can anything really be considered to be artificial intelligence right now? As things stand, these computers and machines rely on a person to create them or programme them into behaving in a certain way. We are responsible for their maintenance, and have complete control over what they do. They aren’t capable of evolving on their own… at least, not yet. Who knows what the future will hold for AI, or what’s already happening behind the scenes. Compared to the brain, there’s a long way to go, but that doesn’t mean the threat doesn’t exist.
What’s your thoughts on artificial intelligence? Will machines ever be smarter than us? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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