We’ve all seen the movies that warn us of what can happen when artificial intelligence, AI for short, goes awry–the machines take over and we’re reduced to a ragtag rebellion fighting for our very existence. Losing our world to the machines we created is the ironic price we pay for proving we can produce technology smarter than we are. While we wait for our wonderful creations to gain self awareness and flip the script on us, AI advances have come far enough to help the modern world in much less threatening ways.
On the medical front, the VA is using AI at Walter Reed Medical Center to help predict complications before they arise. This allows for many complications to be “headed off at the pass,” so to speak, or, at the very least, to be treated before they cause serious damage or setbacks. Preventing or managing complications leads to better outcomes and faster healing for patients and results in lower treatment costs. AI is also gaining ground in the area of paralysis management. Electronic chips implanted into a patient’s brain can allow the patient limited thought-powered control over robotic limbs. Though use of AI in this area is still a long way away from giving paralyzed patients full sensation and motion, progress to date has given many hope that AI could lead to advances in the treatment of paralysis that have long been only a distant dream.
Search and Rescue operations also benefit from the use of AI. Computers can compile and sort through many, many more satellite images, aerial views, and even social media feeds than even the best-trained human searchers. Add facial-recognition features, and AI can do in hours what a human team might not be able to do in several days.
Wildlife conservation is another monumental task that can benefit from the use of AI. Wildbook.org is a site that uses an AI system with alogrithms designed to identify and track animals from photos uploaded by experts and civilians. This program can recognize specific animals based on their unique markings. This allows scientists and conservationists to track animal populations and study migration patterns and community behaviors. Being able to track animals in this manner can help conservationists monitor threatened populations and make recommendations on how best to maintain conservation areas and preserves in order to thwart poaching and otherwise best meet the needs of some of our endangered wildlife.
Cyber security is another facet of our lives that can benefit from artificial intelligence. Given how much of our world is now tied to computers, maintaining the security of computer systems and the precious information they protect and process is not an option. It is most definitely a necessity. Given the speed at which AI-enabled computer systems are able to scan and process information, using computer systems to monitor other computer systems makes sense. Some cyber security systems go beyond monitoring for threats and can actually react to them, identifying and shoring up pending breaches before information is compromised. AI monitors can diagnose and correct problems in less time than it takes a human team to identify that a breach has occurred.
All in all, advances in the field of artificial intelligence offer some promising benefits to the world in which we live. Our challenge will be to continue these advances in ways that benefit the planet and its countless inhabitants without making the computers mad. In case they ever do become self aware. It definitely seems like a good idea to keep them happy. Just in case.