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Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been around almost as long as computers. It was first introduced in the 1950s, and many scientists soon developed unrealistic expectations surrounding it. Throughout the past fifty years there have been as many advances as disappointments. Most people do not realize that AI-based technologies are being utilized every day. This is because once a technology becomes mainstream, it is generally no longer considered to be AI-related.
Take the things we associate with intelligence speaking, writing, thinking; these are actually some of the easiest forms for AI to reproduce. The real beauty of our intelligence is that, while not easily seen, it exists deep inside every living cell that performs a specific function. No individual cell is smart enough to function alone. Instead, humans are a complicated network of cells that carry the blueprints for all other cells.
AI is not an all-or-nothing situation. It achieves success through an incredible number of baby steps. The fact that we are not yet able to build a being like Data in Star Trek does not mean we cannot create some very usable applications in our professional lives. Baby steps have already been taken in the form of technological advancements, including optical character recognition (OCR), speech recognition, digital encoding of pictures and data, and smaller, faster computers. All of these are helping to pave the way for AI-based applications.
I work for a company that creates software for state and city legislatures. Our group is constantly under the gun to produce new and innovative software. To be competitive with the other vendors, we have to show that our product is better. Most important, we have to deliver the product on time.
Recently, we were up against a tight deadline and the pressure was starting to mount. People were getting testy and irritable, and everyone seemed to be waiting on the next guy to do their part. One of my colleagues jokingly informed the other developers that we would soon be installing the newly released Microsoft telepathy product. This could be used to read the minds of all the other developers and make sure everyone was on the same page.
Now, of course, there is no Microsoft telepathy software. Even with the phenomenal progress that has taken place in neuroscience, we still do not fully understand how the brain works, much less how to read one another's minds. Still, I can envision a day, not too far off, when we will have software that can anticipate what users are thinking and act on those predictions.
This book is not about reading minds. It is about utilizing a few artificial intelligence technologies to enhance the value of existing and new applications.
The four AI-related areas I cover in this book are not meant to represent everything the field of artificial intelligence has to offer. In fact, they are just a sampling of the somewhat unexplored potential for business-related applications. They are
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