What is artificial intelligence?

Understanding AI and how it is used in our everyday lives

Discovery Place Science

For many of us, when we think of artificial intelligence (AI), we imagine scenes from Will Smith movies or “The Terminator.”

“There is this misconception that AI is a type of smart robot, or a machine that can think for itself. But asking whether a machine can think is a little like asking whether a submarine can swim,” says HP Newquist, one of the foremost authorities on the history and application of artificial intelligence. “In reality, AI is essentially any number of software programs that recognize patterns so quickly that they appear to mimic human thinking. All AI is based on mathematical calculations, albeit incredibly complex math.”

Those calculations are happening all around us, often so deep inside our daily interactions that we don’t even realize they represent artificial intelligence at work in our lives. For example, we use AI whenever we rely on a GPS app to find a new destination and any time we ask Siri or Alexa to help answer a question or pull up a song. Our streaming services provide tailored recommendations for what to watch next based on AI’s ability to recognize patterns in our viewing habits. Even grammar and spellcheck tools in word processing programs are assisting us thanks to artificial intelligence.

“It is a tool, like any other tool, that we can use to help us with the normal routines of everyday life,” Newquist says. “But AI is not perfect. It has significant limits. It is still evolving, still learning.”

Unlike humans, today’s artificial intelligence cannot establish context. It lacks awareness of the world around it and is limited to the single task it is programmed to complete.

“The goal is to make artificial intelligence more aware of the world around it. That isn’t going to happen in the near future,” Newquist said. “AI will get smarter, but it isn’t anywhere near the point where it can take over your job then go home and sit around and watch TV with you and your family. Whether it can ever become as smart as humans, no one knows.”

The difference in how humans think and how AI “thinks” is a major focus of the latest traveling exhibition at Discovery Place Science. Artificial Intelligence: Your Mind & The Machine. Produced by The Relayer Group, of which Newquist is the executive director, the exhibition aims to make AI relevant and relatable while also showcasing some of the more unusual ways it is being used in the world today.

“Artificial intelligence is the single most important technology being developed today, by far. Every large company and every government in the world is developing AI. It is part of every conversation about the future of education, jobs, and consumer products,” Newquist says. “Yet very few people know what AI is, or what it does. We want to provide people with a way to understand AI so that it is not viewed as either mysterious or frightening.”

Artificial Intelligence: Your Mind & The Machine is now open at Discovery Place Science. The exhibition is free with admission to Discovery Place Science. As the Museum continues to follow all health and safety precautions related to COVID-19, advanced registration is required to visit the Museum. Tickets are on sale now and can be reserved by visiting www.discoveryplacescience.org.

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