We stand on the edge of a crucial moment in the history of our species – a time when a creation of our own inventiveness has the potential to change everything. For some, it will be humanity’s salvation, while for others, it could be our downfall. We are entering the age of artificial intelligence (AI).
While AI is still some way from the sentient machines portrayed in science fiction, the creation of algorithms that can learn, understand language and mimic some aspects of the human mind have led to huge advances. Today AI is being used in hundreds of different industries.
The machines we use on a daily basis are getting smarter, meaning that AI is no longer a futuristic technology but is increasingly integrated into every realm of our lives. From suggesting what books we might like to buy online to powering the virtual assistants that inhabit our phones and smart speakers, some of the applications are more visible than others. In truth, AI is touching our lives far more than many of us realise.
Yet there are also deep ethical questions about how and when AI should be used. And whether the hype surrounding this technology outstrips what is really achievable.
Over the next four months, BBC Future is going to explore the technologies and trends at the cutting-edge of AI, sorting the hype from where it has real-world promise. We will probe the profound implications of letting these silicon brains into our lives and how it will shape our relationships, our work and our societies.
One of the early pioneers of computer science Alan Perlis once quipped that “a year spent in artificial intelligence is enough to make one believe in God,” out of frustration at the problems of producing computer networks that could mimic the human brain. Is the prospect of creating machines that could possibly hope to compete with our brains still out of reach? Or are they now able to do the things humans can only dream of?
What is AI really capable of? How can it help us solve our problems? And how should we feel about this future?