Artificial intelligence is fast encroaching into every area of our digital lives, picking the social media stories we see, identifying our friends and pets in photos, and even making sure we avoid accidents on the road. If you want to understand AI though, you need to start with the terms underpinning it.
And so we present the TechRadar glossary of AI: five of the key words and phrases you’ll want to know to get a hold on this ever-improving tech – and to keep up your end of the conversation the next time the topic crops up around the dinner table.
First, though, a disclaimer – not everyone agrees on the exact definition of some of these words, so you might see them used differently elsewhere on the web. Wherever possible we’ve tried to stick to the most commonly used definitions, but with such a fast-growing and new technology, there are always going to be discrepancies.
Ah, the famous (or infamous) algorithm. Algorithms are sets of rules that computer programs can follow, so if one of your best friends posts a photo of you on Facebook, then the rules say that should go up at the top of your News Feed. Or if you need to get from A to B on Google Maps, an algorithm can help you work out the fastest route.
The rules are followed by computers but usually set by humans – so it’s the Facebook engineers who choose what makes a story important or which roads are fastest. Where AI starts to come in is in tweaking these algorithms using machine learning, so programs begin to adapt these rules for themselves. Google Maps might do this if it starts getting feedback data that a particular road is shut.
When image recognition systems get it wrong, for example, that’s an example of an algorithm or set of rules at work – the same rules have been applied but the wrong result has been reached, so you get a cat-like dog rather than an actual cat. In many ways, algorithms are the building blocks of machine learning.
2. Artificial intelligence
Just what is artificial intelligence anyway? Definitions differ depending on who you ask, but in the broadest sense it’s any kind of intelligence that has been artificially created. Obviously.
So when Siri replies to you like a real human being, that’s artificial intelligence. And when Google Photos seems to know what a cat looks like, that’s artificial intelligence too. And Anthony Daniels hiding inside his C-3PO suit is artificial intelligence as well, in a way – the illusion of a talking, thinking robot which is actually controlled by a human.
The definition really is that wide, so you can see why there’s often confusion about how it should be applied. There are many different types of and approaches to AI, so make sure you understand the differences – when something is described as having AI built-in, that could mean a wide range of technologies are involved.