4 Ways to Define Artificial Intelligence (AI)

By John Paul Mueller, Luca Massaron

The first concept that’s important to understand is that AI doesn’t really have anything to do with human intelligence. Yes, some AI is modeled to simulate human intelligence, but that’s what it is: a simulation. When thinking about AI, notice an interplay between goal seeking, data processing used to achieve that goal, and data acquisition used to better understand the goal. AI relies on algorithms to achieve a result that may or may not have anything to do with human goals or methods of achieving those goals. With this in mind, you can categorize AI in four ways:

  • Acting humanly: When a computer acts like a human, it best reflects the Turing test, in which the computer succeeds when differentiation between the computer and a human isn’t possible. This category also reflects what the media would have you believe AI is all about. You see it employed for technologies such as natural language processing, knowledge representation, automated reasoning, and machine learning (all four of which must be present to pass the test).

The original Turing Test didn’t include any physical contact. The newer, Total Turing Test does include physical contact in the form of perceptual ability interrogation, which means that the computer must also employ both computer vision and robotics to succeed. Modern techniques include the idea of achieving the goal rather than mimicking humans completely. For example, the Wright Brothers didn’t succeed in creating an airplane by precisely copying the flight of birds; rather, the birds provided ideas that led to aerodynamics that eventually led to human flight. The goal is to fly. Both birds and humans achieve this goal, but they use different approaches.

  • Thinking humanly: When a computer thinks as a human, it performs tasks that require intelligence (as contrasted with rote procedures) from a human to succeed, such as driving a car. To determine whether a program thinks like a human, you must have some method of determining how humans think, which the cognitive modeling approach defines. This model relies on three techniques:
    • Introspection: Detecting and documenting the techniques used to achieve goals by monitoring one’s own thought processes.
    • Psychological testing: Observing a person’s behavior and adding it to a database of similar behaviors from other persons given a similar set of circumstances, goals, resources, and environmental conditions (among other things).
    • Brain imaging: Monitoring brain activity directly through various mechanical means, such as Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT), Positron Emission Tomography (PET), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and Magnetoencephalography (MEG).

After creating a model, you can write a program that simulates the model. Given the amount of variability among human thought processes and the difficulty of accurately representing these thought processes as part of a program, the results are experimental at best. This category of thinking humanly is often used in psychology and other fields in which modeling the human thought process to create realistic simulations is essential.

  • Thinking rationally: Studying how humans think using some standard enables the creation of guidelines that describe typical human behaviors. A person is considered rational when following these behaviors within certain levels of deviation. A computer that thinks rationally relies on the recorded behaviors to create a guide as to how to interact with an environment based on the data at hand. The goal of this approach is to solve problems logically, when possible. In many cases, this approach would enable the creation of a baseline technique for solving a problem, which would then be modified to actually solve the problem. In other words, the solving of a problem in principle is often different from solving it in practice, but you still need a starting point.
  • Acting rationally: Studying how humans act in given situations under specific constraints enables you to determine which techniques are both efficient and effective. A computer that acts rationally relies on the recorded actions to interact with an environment based on conditions, environmental factors, and existing data. As with rational thought, rational acts depend on a solution in principle, which may not prove useful in practice. However, rational acts do provide a baseline upon which a computer can begin negotiating the successful completion of a goal.

The categories used to define AI offer a way to consider various uses for or ways to apply AI. Some of the systems used to classify AI by type are arbitrary and not distinct. For example, some groups view AI as either strong (generalized intelligence that can adapt to a variety of situations) or weak (specific intelligence designed to perform a particular task well). The problem with strong AI is that it doesn’t perform any task well, while weak AI is too specific to perform tasks independently. Even so, just two type classifications won’t do the job even in a general sense. The four classification types promoted by Arend Hintze form a better basis for understanding AI:

  • Reactive machines: The machines you see beating humans at chess or playing on game shows are examples of reactive machines. A reactive machine has no memory or experience upon which to base a decision. Instead, it relies on pure computational power and smart algorithms to recreate every decision every time. This is an example of a weak AI used for a specific purpose.
  • Limited memory: A self-driving car or autonomous robot can’t afford the time to make every decision from scratch. These machines rely on a small amount of memory to provide experiential knowledge of various situations. When the machine sees the same situation, it can rely on experience to reduce reaction time and to provide more resources for making new decisions that haven’t yet been made. This is an example of the current level of strong AI.
  • Theory of mind: A machine that can assess both its required goals and the potential goals of other entities in the same environment has a kind of understanding that is feasible to some extent today, but not in any commercial form. However, for self-driving cars to become truly autonomous, this level of AI must be fully developed. A self-driving car would not only need to know that it must go from one point to another, but also intuit the potentially conflicting goals of drivers around it and react accordingly.
  • Self-awareness: This is the sort of AI that you see in movies. However, it requires technologies that aren’t even remotely possible now because such a machine would have a sense of both self and consciousness. In addition, instead of merely intuiting the goals of others based on environment and other entity reactions, this type of machine would be able to infer the intent of others based on experiential knowledge.