AI smarter than humans?

What began in the 1950s with a conference has grown into a ­key technology. It is already influencing our lives today, and as the intelligence of machines increases in the future that influence is bound to spread much more. But is AI smarter than humans?

Smart home assistants order products online on demand. Chatbots talk to customers with no human intermediary. Self-driving cars transport the occupants safely to their destination, while the driver is engrossed in a newspaper. All of those are applications that are already encountered today in our everyday lives – and they all have something in common: they would not be possible without Artificial Intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence is a key technology which, in the years ahead, will have a major impact not only on our day-to-day lives but also on the competitiveness of the economy as a whole. “Artificial Intelligence has enormous potential for improving our lives – in the healthcare sector, in education, or in public administration, for example. It offers major opportunities to businesses, and has already attained an astonishingly high degree of acceptance among the public at large,” says Achim Berg, president of industry association Bitkom.

How everything began

Developments in this technology began as far back as the 1950s. The term Artificial Intelligence was actually coined even before the technology had truly existed, by computer scientist John McCarthy at a conference at Dartmouth University in the USA in 1956. The US government became aware of AI, and saw potential advantages from it in the Cold War, so it provided McCarthy and his colleague Marvin Minsky with the financial resources necessary to advance the new technology. By 1970, Minsky was convinced: “In from three to eight years, we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being.” But that was to prove excessively optimistic. Scientists around the world made little progress in advancing AI, so governments began cutting funding. A kind of AI winter closed in. It was only in 1980 that efforts to develop intelligent machines picked up pace again. They culminated in a spectacular battle: in 1997, IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue defeated chess world champion Garry Kasparov.

Bots are better gamers

AI began to advance rapidly from then on. Staying with games of a kind, the progress being made was demonstrated by the victory of a bot developed by OpenAI against a team of professional players in the multiplayer game Dota 2 – one of the most complex of all video games. What was so special about this triumph was that the bot taught itself the game in just four months. By continuous trial and error over huge numbers of rounds played against itself, the bot discovered what it needed to do to win. The bot was only set up to play a one-to-one game, however – normally two teams of five play against each other. Creating a team of five bots is the OpenAI developers’ next objective. OpenAI is a non-profit research institute founded by Elon Musk with the stated aim of developing safe AI for the good of all humanity.

Intelligence doubled in two years

So, is AI already as clever as a person today? To find that out, researchers headed by Feng Liu at the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing devised a test which measures the intelligence of machines and compares it to human intelligence. The test focused on digital assistants such as Siri and Cortana. It found that the cleverest helper of all is the Google Assistant. With a score of 47.28 points, its intelligence is ranked just below that of a six year-old human (55.5 points). That’s pretty impressive. But what is much more impressive is the rate at which the Google Assistant is becoming more intelligent. When Feng Liu first conducted the test back in 2014, the Google Assistant scored just 26.4 points – meaning it almost doubled its intelligence in two years. If the system keeps on learning at that rate, it won’t be long before Minsky’s vision expressed back in 1970 of a machine with the intelligence of a human adult becomes reality.

Simulating a human

Surprisingly, despite the long history of the development of intelligent machines, there is still no scientifically recognised definition of AI today. The term is generally used to describe systems which simulate human intelligence and behaviour. The most fitting explanation comes from renowned MIT professor Marvin Minsky, who defined AI as “the science of making machines do those things that would be considered intelligent if they were done by people”.

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