Since the start of the 21st century, there's no question that mankind has made tremendous strides into the field of robotics. While modern robots can now replicate the movements and actions of humans, the next challenge lies in teaching robots to think for themselves and react to changing conditions. The field of artificial intelligence promises to give machines the ability to think analytically, using concepts and advances in computer science, robotics and mathematics.
While scientists have yet to realize the full potential of artificial intelligence, this technology will likely have far-reaching effects on human life in the years to come. Read on to learn about some of the surprising ways in which artificial intelligence impacts your life today, and see how it could change things in the future.
10: Taming the Weather
Meteorologists analyze large volumes of data in order to predict the weather, and even the most experienced weatherman isn't always accurate. Soon, scientists may be able to predict the weather better by using artificial intelligence software, which can sift through complex data and spot patterns missed by the human eye. When this software sees a big storm coming, it will automatically issue alerts to warn residents and the media, and this may help save lives [source: Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence].
By increasing the accuracy of weather predictions, artificial intelligence software may also offer important benefits in crop development, forestry and agriculture. NASA is even working on programs that will guide aircraft around potential storms and danger spots, even in remote areas, which could increase the safety of air travel in the near future [source: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research].
9: Tackling Dangerous (or Boring) Tasks
If you have a robotic vacuum cleaner in your home, you're already taking advantage of artificial intelligence to tackle one of life's more tedious tasks. These devices not only clean your floor according to schedule, but are also able to maneuver around obstacles like stairs, furniture and even the cat. Facilities with large turf areas, like golf courses, rely on similar technology to mow their lawns without the need for human intervention [source: Lombardi]. The same technology may soon allow robots to perform boring or repetitive tasks along an assembly line, or even sort trash and recycling at waste processing centers.
Artificial intelligence may also allow machines to perform tasks too dangerous for humans, such as mining or firefighting. Some countries have already put smart robots to work disabling land mines and even handling radioactive materials in order to limit the risk to human workers [source: Williams].
8: Saving the Planet
With artificial intelligence, scientists may soon be able to use robots or other devices to clean up the environment and reduce the effects of air and water pollution. Advanced software programs will allow these machines to distinguish between biological organisms and potential pollutants like oil or hazardous waste. Tiny microbes will consume waste products and leave good biological matter intact, minimizing damage to the ecosystem.
Smart software can also limit the effects of air pollution from manufacturing and industrial processes. As factories burn fuel, they release byproducts in the form of carbon dioxide and other gases. Some of these factories already use artificial intelligence programs to identify patterns during combustion and modify manufacturing processes to minimize pollution. Others rely on this software to capture dangerous chemicals before they enter the smokestack and end up in the air outside [source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency].
7: Driverless Transport
Imagine cars that warn you of potential obstacles to help you avoid accidents, or even allow you to sit back and take in the sites as they drive themselves. Artificial intelligence may soon make all this possible, using cameras, sensors and special software built into the vehicle. Manufacturers already rely on this technology to make backing up and parking safer, while both the Toyota Prius and certain Lexus models can self-park at the touch of a button [source: Brandon].
Driverless trains carry passengers from city to city in Japan without the need for human help, and self-driving cars may be closer than you think. In 2010, Google began testing its own line of driverless cars, which rely on lasers and sensors to spot obstacles, interpret signs and interact with traffic and pedestrians. Artificial intelligence not only takes the responsibility away from the driver, but also eliminates the danger of distracted driving and boasts a reaction time much faster than that of any human [source: Markoff].
6: Pushing the Limits of Space Exploration
In the near future, advances in artificial intelligence will allow scientists to travel well beyond the limits of 20th-century space travel and explore more of the universe beyond our solar system. Today, NASA relies on unmanned shuttles to explore distant galaxies that would take years for humans to reach. Driverless land rovers also allow researchers to explore and photograph Mars and other planets, where inhospitable conditions make human exploration impossible. These smart vehicles sense obstacles, like craters, and find safe paths of travel around them before returning to the shuttle [source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory].
Artificial intelligence technology will also help scientists react more quickly to emergencies during manned flights. For example, a radio message from Mars takes roughly 11 minutes to reach Earth. Rather than waiting for advice from scientists on the ground when trouble arises, astronauts will work with onboard software systems to spot and prevent problems before they happen [source: Bluck].
5: Protect Your Finances
As of 2010, roughly half of world stock trades are driven by artificial intelligence-based software. These programs rely on algorithms to spot patterns in the market and predict price changes based on these patterns [source: Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence]. Some can even buy or sell shares based on these predictions, while others issue an alert to human brokers and advise them of the changes to come. This technology results in better performance and improved returns for investors.
Artificial intelligence software may soon be able to protect consumers from fraud by spotting changes in spending or credit card use. If cards are lost or accounts are breached, the program can shut down the account and alert the holder of a potential problem to help limit losses.
4: Staying Safe
Artificial intelligence technology will soon help keep your family safe by protecting it from international threats as well as home burglaries. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security relies on virtual smart agents to supplement its human workforce, or to replace an agent when he or she is unavailable. The agency also incorporates artificial intelligence software into its monitoring systems, which scan phone calls and other communications. These programs can sift through large volumes of data quickly and are even capable of distinguishing between casual conversation and potential threats [source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security].
Homes equipped with smarter security systems alert the homeowner and local law enforcement when an intruder enters the property. While older systems simply relied on motion detectors and sensors, modern security includes artificial intelligence that allows the system to distinguish between occupants and unknown persons.
3: A Little Help Please
While the world may not be ready for flying cars, families may soon enjoy the perks of robotic servants to handle housekeeping tasks. These intelligent robots will not only clean your living room and do the dishes, but may also tackle jobs like assembling furniture or caring for kids and pets. Through the use of artificial intelligence software, these machines will be able to recognize and sort objects, and even learn to minimize future mistakes as they work [source: Chang].
Robotic assistants not only stand to benefit the average family, but may also offer help to the elderly or disabled. Through voice-recognition software, these personal servants will guide the blind or even fetch items on command.
Virtual assistants are also likely to take the place of traditional secretaries and medical assistants. They'll greet clients, interact with patients and handle typing and correspondence, all without ever taking a sick day [source: Lohr and Markoff].
2: Space-Age Medicine
While robotic servants and driverless cars offer a certain wow factor, artificial intelligence in medicine is already helping doctors detect diseases and save lives. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center relies on special software to examine the heart and stop heart attacks before they occur [source: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center]. Artificial muscles feature smart technology that allows them to function more like real muscles, and the latest intelligent devices can distinguish between life-saving medications and fake or tainted pills.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of smart medical technology is the use of robotic surgery assistants, who can not only pass the correct tools to doctors, but also keep track of these tools and learn about a doctor's preferences [source: Columbia University Medical Center].
Even a primary care physician can benefit from artificial intelligence, with software that tracks changes in health records to diagnose patients or warn doctors of potential risk factors and problems with medications.
1: The Robot-Human Species
Transhumanism represents the ultimate application of artificial intelligence to human life. Proponents of transhumanism believe that artificial intelligence can improve the overall human experience by expanding the limits of the mind and body. As humans incorporate more and more technology into their everyday lives, transhumanism offers the opportunity to eliminate disabilities, slow aging and even stop death.
Some picture transhumanism resulting in cyborgs, while others picture an entirely new species that people have yet to imagine: a being that's developed beyond the current human state to enjoy a higher level of reasoning, culture and physical capabilities. While members of the World Transhumanist Association celebrate the coming of this new creation, others call it the most dangerous threat to humanity. With significant ethical implications, particularly those related to cloning and eugenics, transhumanism must be pursued with extreme care to let mankind maintain its sense of humanity [source: World Transhumanist Association].
Lots More Information
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