Ask Siri or Alexa, "What is artificial intelligence?" and the answer could well be, "I am." Indeed, virtual assistants are among the most widespread examples of how AI has transformed life in the 21st century. The impact of AI technology can be felt in our daily life (robot vacuums, smart speakers and phones) and on a grand scale, remaking healthcare, weather forecasting, transportation, data security and space exploration.
The concept of thinking machines has been around since the days of ancient philosophers, but it has only come into its own since the 1950s. That's when pioneers like Alan Turing solidified the definition of AI: machines that can solve problems, learn and change. Computers became cheaper and faster around that same time, with enough storage capacity to move beyond basic tasks.
In the decades since, AI has brought us robot workers, driverless cars and computers capable of beating chess masters and "Jeopardy!" champions. Today AI applications help accelerate the development of vaccines, translate speech and protect against theft and fraud
So, what are the top emerging applications of artificial intelligence in 2022? This article explores five areas in which AI systems deploy deep learning and adaptive processing to simulate and even surpass the human brain.
The use of AI continues to grow and evolve at a rapid pace. Intriguing recent developments have occurred in a variety of disciplines, including healthcare, education, weather forecasting and virtual environments.
Hospitals and other healthcare organizations put a strong emphasis on a personal, human touch in patient care. But studies have found that AI sometimes does a better job than people in spotting disparities based on race and other factors. Black patients were two or three times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white patients, with whites in emergency rooms far more likely to be offered COVID tests than Blacks with the same symptoms. Among patients recovering from an operation, Blacks are 40 percent less likely to get pain meds.
A study of osteoarthrits pain in Blacks and non-Blacks found that standard tests only accounted for nine percent of the difference between the two groups. A machine learning algorithm performed significantly better; it analyzed knee X-rays and spotted physical factors that accounted for 43 percent of the racial variance.
Computerized grading has been common since the 1970s, when students started routinely using pencils to fill in bubbles on answer sheets. Machines like the Scantron scanner used optical mark recognition to check their answers. But analyzing written language requires a sophistication far beyond determining whether a student filled in the bubble corresponding to a certain number or answered A, B, C or D.
The first computerized grading of written assignments, known as automated essay scoring (AES), came along in the '90s. Most instructors will tell you that grading essays is one of the most tedious, time-consuming parts of their job – so much so that many (especially instructors outside the English Department) avoid lengthy ones.
Automation through artificial intelligence and machine learning has made their jobs much easier. That's especially true for people who teach massive open online courses (MOOC), which may have thousands of students. "Some AES systems are designed to provide holistic scores, while others provide both scores and feedback on individual aspects of the writing, such as grammar, style and mechanics," RAND Perspective reports.
A powerful hurricane tore through Long Island and New England in 1938, killing hundreds of people and destroying thousands of buildings and ships. Tragically, most people had no idea it was coming because of the primitive meteorological tools of the era.
Weather forecasting has improved dramatically in the decades since, with AI tools accelerating those improvements in recent years. Even so, people in the paths of tornadoes and hail storms today don't get much more notice than the hurricane victims in 1938. Powerful computers and Big Data now promise a new forecasting era.
"I think we're about to see real breakthroughs," says Sue Ellen Haupt, senior scientist and deputy director of the Research Applications Laboratory at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. She reports that "We're beginning to use AI to determine what storms will have extreme events, like hail or tornadoes. We might be able to get more than a few minutes' warning… AI is going to be the key to better forecasting."
Thanks to high-performance computers crunching voluminous data sets, such breakthroughs could give people much more time to prepare, saving many lives and reducing property damage from hurricanes, floods, snow storms, hail storms and the like. AI may even extend big-picture forecasts decades into the future, allowing us to better prepare for climate change and its impacts.
You may not think much about protein beyond the kinds you eat for fuel, but your body has hundreds of thousands of proteins that play a crucial role in everything from disease defense to muscle contractions. Protein chains fold into different shapes depending on the role they play. Determining those shapes is crucial in the development of many different kinds of medicine.
The process has evolved slowly over the years, from X-ray analysis in the 1950s to early computer models in the '90s. AI has accelerated the process dramatically in the past few years. "Proteins are the workhorses of the cell of the cell," wrote Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "Mapping the precise shapes of the most important of these workhorses helps to unlock their life-supporting functions or, in the case of disease, potential for dysfunction… [d]educing the atom-by-atom map from principles of quantum mechanics has been beyond the ability of computer programs – until now."
The ability of AI-driven software to "churn out protein structures by the thousands" was named 2021 Breakthrough of the Year by Science magazine. "I never thought I'd see this in my lifetime," said John Moult, a structural biologist at the University of Maryland, Shady Grove, who co-founded a competition to predict protein structures that began in 1994.
Characters in movies routinely interact with computerized displays floating in the air around them. Think of Tony Stark in the Iron Man and Avengers flicks manipulating holograms as easily as he would move a coffee cup. AI is rapidly bringing that kind of computerized environment out of the realm of science fiction and into everyday reality.
"We've always relied on a two-dimensional display to play a game or interact with a webpage or read an e-book," says Dr. Hossein Rahnama, founder and CEO of Flybits, an AI concierge company, and visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He predicts a much more immersive experience via AI and the Internet of Things. "You'll see people designing experiences around them, whether it's in connected buildings or connected boardrooms. These will be 3D experiences you can actually feel."
The rapid pace of change delivered by the many applications of AI so far makes it a challenge to predict its likely impacts going forward. That said, AI will continue to make its presence felt in a wide array of fields, including healthcare, cybersecurity, transportation and finance.
Look for new and better disease management and treatment, thanks to advances in understanding protein structures and other research. Efforts are underway to augment psychiatric treatment with technology. AI is also expected to help address senior care issues, including social isolation, caregiver burden and end-of-life planning.
Cybersecurity threats have grown far too numerous for human observers alone to address. AI monitors and addresses attacks, sometimes by alerting people and sometimes by taking independent action. Security systems are expected to become increasingly autonomous. AI may ultimately eliminate passwords, relying instead on identifying users based on biometrics or online behavior.
Driverless cars, trucks and trains represent the biggest and most obvious change AI promises to bring to transportation, with autonomous boats and planes in the works, as well. Travel could look very different a decade from now, with dramatic improvements in everything from driver assistance to international shipping.
AI will continue to transform financial institutions. Watch for technological innovations such as smart assistants (described as "Alexa but for customer support"), personalized financial management advice, streamlined credit scoring and loan assessment, and improved fraud detection.
The timing couldn't be better to pursue an AI career. All sorts of companies and agencies are hiring AI professionals at good salaries, with non-existent unemployment. Salary.com reports average annual income around $144,000, with higher numbers in places like New York and California. Jobs are plentiful in AI programming, research, fraud and theft protection, and development and engineering for data analysis.
Maximize your marketability as an AI pro by getting an undergraduate degree in engineering or computer science. Move ahead of the competition and elevate your salary potential by landing an advanced degree. A number of schools make the process easier by offering online programs, including San Diego State University and Southern Methodist University.
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