Riding the Waves of AI

From simple games to self-learning systems – AI has come a long way

Today, talk of artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere – from Apple’s Siri to how Uber dispatches drivers to the way Facebook arranges its Newsfeed. However, it wasn’t long ago that AI was regarded by many as purely science fiction – the plotline of Hollywood blockbusters such as 2001: A Space Odyssey. The term “artificial intelligence” was coined in 1956 with the hopes of creating machines that could emulate human intelligence,  such as reasoning and judgment.

Those early days drew scientists from academia to enterprise to ignite a revolution of innovation that we’ve been riding ever since. Here are three significant waves of AI that have brought us to where we are today – each one taking us closer to the fulfillment of that early vision.

First Wave: Age of Search and Deductive Reasoning

The first wave of AI generated a lot of interesting ideas in the 1950s. Engineers devised algorithms and software, and provided programs with logical rules which led to simple games such as the first computer program capable of playing Draughts. Although these first-wave AI systems could perform straightforward reasoning tasks, they were unable to learn anything on their own. While they couldn’t be applied to business at the time, some of today’s applications in smartphone maps can be traced back to this first-wave of AI systems. But in general, this wave did not have any material impact on business or people’s lives.

Second Wave: Age of Knowledge Acquisition

The second wave of AI began in the 1980s with big AI projects when engineers turned their focus to helping machines acquire knowledge. Instead of just programming precise rules for machines to follow, engineers tried to teach machines the knowledge of experts, and developed statistical models which machines could use to adapt this knowledge to different situations. While second-wave AI machines had some breakthroughs – Deep Blue became the first computer system to defeat a reigning world champion in 1997 in chess – many second-wave machines struggled with accuracy and complexity issues, rendering them impractical for most business applications. Commercialization of AI was still elusive.

Third Wave: Age of Machine Learning

Since the turn of the century, we’ve been riding the third wave of AI, where computers use machine learning and deep learning techniques to automatically learn from vast amounts of data and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed.  The immense processing power enabled the development of neural networks, better natural language processing, and enhanced image processing. Third-wave AI is now able to consume data from statistical models, identify patterns in the data, create common-sense rules, and incorporate information from multiple sources to reach a conclusion on their own. For example, AI – along with the internet of things (IoT) connectivity – is extracting data from wearable devices and public sources to create personal health updates in real-time. We’re seeing third-wave AI driving numerous commercial applications in personal assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and operating self-driving vehicles used in the industry. This wave is expected to last for a long time.

While the journey from the simple games of the 50s to the self-learning machines of today has been quite a ride – we have just scratched the surface of the full potential of AI. One thing is for certain: AI is more than Hollywood storytelling.

Next Wave: Ushering in the New Era

And now nearly after two decades of effort, Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, in partnership with NASA, successfully launched its first two people into orbit, ushering in a new age of human spaceflight in the United States. It’s this unwavering commitment and curiosity that drives this wave of AI.

to be continued..