Discussions about artificial intelligence (AI) have jumped into the public eye over the past year, with several luminaries speaking about the threat of AI to the future of humanity. Over the last several decades, AI—automated perception, learning, reasoning, and decision making—has become commonplace in our lives. We plan trips using GPS systems that rely on the A* algorithm to optimize the route. Our smartphones understand our speech, and Siri, Cortana, and Google Now are getting better at understanding our intentions. Machine vision detects faces as we take pictures with our phones and recognizes the faces of individual people when we post those pictures to Facebook Internet search engines rely on a fabric of AI subsystems. On any day, AI provides hundreds of millions of people with search results, traffic predictions, and recommendations about books and movies. AI translates among languages in real time and speeds up the operation of our laptops by guessing what we will do next. Several companies are working on cars that can drive themselves—either with partial human oversight or entirely autonomously. Beyond the influences in our daily lives, AI techniques are playing roles in science and medicine. AI is already at work in some hospitals helping physicians understand which patients are at highest risk for complications, and AI algorithms are finding important needles in massive data haystacks, such as identifying rare but devastating side effects of medications.
The AI in our lives today provides a small glimpse of more profound contributions to come. For example, the fielding of currently available technologies could save many thousands of lives, including those lost to accidents on our roadways and to errors made in medicine. Over the longer-term, advances in machine intelligence will have deeply beneficial influences on healthcare, education, transportation, commerce, and the overall march of science. Beyond the creation of new applications and services, the pursuit of insights about the computational foundations of intelligence promises to reveal new principles about cognition that can help provide answers to longstanding questions in neurobiology, psychology, and philosophy.