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Artificial intelligence is one of those terms that both excites and terrifies people. The idea that computers can learn and become self-aware inspires many to think of the great possibilities that can arise from this, however, there are those who are terrified at what could happen, thinking of things like Terminator as the ultimate outcome.

Whether there is a real concern about the world coming to an end because of the takeover of computers is likely more fantasy than reality, but the truth is that there are many who are even questioning whether the idea of artificial intelligence is reality at all. Because a computer is a completely manmade object there are those who are sure that the only way that this device can learn is if a man or woman has taught it to learn the very thing that the programmer taught it. In other words, they question if the student could ever become more than the teacher.

What has clouded this idea is that a confusion has developed related to the terminology that is being used. Artificial intelligence is really the idea that a computer or other device can learn to think for themselves. In essence, it means that it is able to become smart and think independently of how it was programmed.

Machine learning is a term that is being used in the same way as artificial intelligence but is more of a specific kind of AI.

What this term means is that a device should just be given as much information as it wants and the computer or other device will simply learn on its own. The idea is that if a programmer writes his or her code correctly, then the device will be able to start figuring out on its own how to accomplish things and to think for itself.

For those who are fans of the movie War Games, this was the concept behind the WOPR. This computer was given access to a series of games, such as tic-tac-toe, chess, and others, not only to teach it basic strategy, but to allow it to learn on its own. By giving it the information about the games and how to play, the computer would then figure out strategies that would allow it to win the ultimate war – A Nuclear War.

In the end of the movie, the computer system learned the ultimate lesson – that no one wins in a nuclear war. The reality is that mankind knew that long before the computer figured it out. The programmers were hoping that the system would figure out a way to win, but all it did was confirm the truth – that no one will win.

We actually see a lot of devices that attempt to use the idea of machine learning in a lot of the things we use today. For example, smart phones are built to learn the behaviors of the user and to adjust to the mannerisms of the user. We also see this in speech to text programs, which learn the way that a person speaks and then adjust to make sure that the right text is being typed.

There are everyday products that are much more banal that are using these kinds of ideas as well. The most expensive head massagers and the best massage chairs in general are such a case. Some of these devices are being built to adjust to how the individual uses them. For example, if a person subconsciously sits in a chair a certain way to work a certain part of their body better or they push with slightly less pressure on a certain part of their head because it is more sore there, the device learns “on its own” and adjusts to help the user get the greatest benefit. Sounds great doesn’t it?

But is this really some kind of artificial intelligence that is being employed? The truth is no. The reason that the device is able to learn in this way is because it is programmed to do so. It is not providing its own intelligence, but is using the intelligence of the programmer to learn.

What is being lost in this whole thought process is that people are expecting a computer to all of a sudden figure things out without direction. Without being a perfect metaphor, it is much like handing a computer to a one month old and asking it to figure out the computer, learn to speak, get on the internet, and communicate with people without providing them any instruction at all. This is the idea that those who are advocates for artificial intelligence expect to see happen.

While the idea of machine learning is intriguing, the truth is that this device does not have the ability to do so for one big reason – a lack of consciousness. It may seem arrogant to put it this way, but one of the things that makes human beings so special is the ability to think on our own. The more information we are provided, the higher level that thinking can be, but it is the ability to think on our own that separates ourselves from machines.

A computer or other device is at the disposal of its programming. This will always limit it and make AI a nice fantasy but something that will likely never be reality. After all, consider this for a moment. Would you really want all the computers of the world starting to think for themselves? If you think about it, it’s a lot scarier than you may think.

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