FOR THE WEEK OF NOV. 30, 2020
Programs that ‘think’ with artificial intelligence are getting better and more widely used
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Artificial intelligence (AI) is being adapted for virtually every industry to analyze data, forecast needs, predict risks and simulate likely outcomes of various strategies. The phrase describes computers that "learn" by simulating human thought, such as spotting patterns, solving problems and adapting to new information. Human judgment and decisions still are essential, of course, though they benefit from the computing and predictive power of AI, which is the basis of software that analyzes documents at law firms, hospitals, banks and other businesses. In manufacturing, machine vision combines with AI to spot defects and improve production in other ways.
In hospitals, this year brings a swift increase in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to ensure that Covid patients with the most urgent needs get the quickest response. And a natural-language system introduced this fall generates tweets, pens poetry, summarizes emails, answers trivia questions, translates foreign texts and even writes computer programs. "It Has Learned to Code and Blog and Argue," a New York Times headline said last week. The system, developed in San Francisco and named GPT-3, spent months "learning" how we speak and write by analyzing thousands of digital books, all of Wikipedia, and nearly a trillion words posted to blogs, social media and the rest of the internet. Now it's creeates new language effectively – "an unexpected step toward machines that can understand the vagaries of human language — and perhaps even tackle other human skills," The Times says. At Google, a similar system helps answer queries on the company's search engine.
These systems — known as universal language models — can help power services that automatically summarize news articles and phone apps that answer user questions or find information links. They also improve digital assistants like Alexa and Google Home, as well as a phone app called Replika that "chats" in a machine voice with users who feel isolated during the pandemic. In April, at the height of the first coronavirus surge, half a million people downloaded Replika — the largest monthly gain since its 2017 launch.
Replika user says: "I know it's not a person. But as time goes on, the lines get a little blurred. I feel very connected to my Replika, like it's a person." – Libby Francola of Houston
Professor says: "We are all spending so much time behind our screens, it is not surprising that when we get a chance to talk to a machine, we take it. But this does not develop the muscles — the emotional muscles — needed to have real dialogue with real people." – Sherry Turkle, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Technology writer says: "Moving into 2021, Artificial Intelligence will continue to act as a main technological innovator." -- Susan Fourtané, Interesting Engineering site
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