If you tell someone that your brain is like a computer, he/she might bubble over with excitement. This is in effect a compliment for being quick, fast and accurate. The computers are known for storing vast amount of information, processing and retrieving data to solve problems with much higher speed and accuracy. But look at the kind of work the scientists are doing over the last couple of decades. They are trying hard to make computers think like human brains! The big question is, can computers think like humans? Can these machines become smarter and more intelligent than humans? This has been the subject of debate for philosophers and computer scientists alike over the past several decades and presents an ultimate challenge to the field of computer science. Unlike computers, brain has an evolutionary past and is perhaps the most complex object that is endowed with intelligence. But the technology is changing quickly; the machines are becoming smarter at an astonishing pace benefiting humankind in every possible measure. Never before in our history has such profound changes been seen so close. The idea that ordinary humans will someday be overtaken by artificially intelligent machines has moved from the realm of science fiction to a serious scientific debate.
Alan Turing was a genius British Mathematician and Logician who broke Germany’s most secret codes during the World War-II. For his contributions, Winston Churchill had possibly said that war was shortened by nearly two years which saved millions of lives. While most people still don’t know Turing, the Time Magazine in 1999, listed him among the 20th century’s hundred most influential scientists like Albert Einstein, Alexander Fleming. In 1950 he wrote a seminal paper entitled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” published in the philosophical journal ‘Mind’ where he asked a question ‘Can Machines Think’. He proposed a simple test which came to be known as “Turing Test”. This was a time when the first general purpose computers had just been built and the term AI had not even been coined until in 1956 by John McCarthy, two years after Alan’s untimely tragic death. Nevertheless, Turing’s ideas created a new field. As the name employs, AI is the creation of human-like intelligence in machines. It is the technology that enables machines to mimic human behavior. As a subject, AI is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks which normally require human intelligence. The tasks are visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, reasoning and translation between languages. It is accomplished by studying how human brain works and then using the outcomes as a basis for developing intelligent software systems.
AI has become a buzzword in the world of science, technology and Industry today. It is already there in our computers, mobile phones and other devices when we are online. The applications based on AI are already visible in industries, in health, education, transportation, entertainment and has the potential to be a new engine for economic growth. A simple example of AI is the thermostat that controls the temperature of devices automatically. AI adds intelligence to the products much like the Google Assistant was added as a feature to a new generation of mobile phones. The Voice Assistants such as Alexa, Siri, Amazon, Apple etc are much more than convenient tools and they use speech recognition software to answer your questions. AI has made it possible for machines to learn from experience and perform human-like tasks. It is impacting e-mail filtering, fraud detection where softwares are used to detect strange activity on your account. Robots are taking over human jobs like hotel waiters; policemen etc, traffic is managed automatically, doctors are performing tele-robotic surgeries. The self-driving cars do not require any human effort, move safely at high speeds. These are all real applications of AI that is increasingly becoming integral part of our lives. The ultimate luxury would be an Assistant who waits for your calls and demands, anticipates your needs and takes action when necessary. That luxury is now available, thanks to AI.
Human brain is the most powerful super computer in the world. It has been the main source of inspiration for AI. To go further with AI we need to know more about human brain and take inspiration from the nature as well. Neural networks, deep learning and machine learning concepts are big topics in Computer Science. Neural Network is a biological representation of neurons in the brain and it deals with all the connections and chemical reactions in the brain. A typical brain contains hundreds of billions of neurons interconnected in a complex way, the equivalent in a computer are the billion transistors on a chip connected in a simple way. The Artificial Neural Network is one of the machine learning algorithms which has proved useful for studying the brain. While machine learning uses algorithms to parse data, learn from that data to make decisions, the deep learning is a subset of machine learning that configures computers to learn from deep layers of large amounts of data and perform tasks through experience. Deep learning is a key concept to perform classification tasks directly from images, text or sound and the main technology behind driverless cars etc. As the algorithms are growing increasingly sophisticated in simulating the human intelligence making AI a rapidly developing field and as it is progressing and getting more in our lives, there would be super-intelligent machines in the market controlling everything around.
The experts are predicting the term “technological singularity”-a hypothetical point which refers that AI smarter than humans will be created in the future that will solve every kind of human problem. The intelligence will be able to figure out genetic engineering, solve every problem of disease whereby humans would be able to live much longer. If the intelligence has the ability to improve itself, the humans would lose the autonomy. This has been worrying for many experts who also believe that singularity could come about in the middle of the present century which may result in unforeseeable changes to the human civilization. However, many scientists also believe that machines are good at pattern matching and the humans have the ability to learn unlimited patterns honed by millions of years of their evolution, they would learn how to harness computing to augment their own native capabilities and thus will always be smarter than AI. The situation thus presents both an existential opportunity as well as existential threat for humanity to transcend its limitations and we need to imagine both possibilities. Whether the AI is rising on a wave of hype, the robots can control a society or act as witness or as a tool for committing various crimes, the technology is bound to have unmanageable implications. As we move forward, we have to make it sure that its impact is positive, the countries including India need to be legally prepared to regulate this disruptive technology.
Dr Mohammad Amin Malik is College Principal