Artificial intelligence (AI) software has become such a staple of science fiction that most people think of it as a futuristic technology that may or may not ever become a reality.
But the truth is, most of us are already using AI software every day.
Every time you talk to your smartphone, conduct a Web search or check a social media feed, you're interacting with artificial intelligence. AI software plays games with us, composes music and writes movies. You're becoming more and more likely to encounter AI every time you do some online shopping as well. In fact, Gartner predicts, "By 2020, autonomous software agents outside of human control will participate in five percent of all economic transactions."
Somewhat more ominously, the same Gartner report forecasts, "By 2018, more than 3 million workers globally will be supervised by a 'robo-boss,'" and "By 2018, 45 percent of the fastest-growing companies will have fewer employees than instances of smart machines."
Those sorts of predictions have some people worried about losing their jobs. Others, including luminaries like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, have issued warnings about the potential for AI to become dangerous. They are part of group called the Future of Life Institute, which says that intelligent machines could pose an "existential risk" to human life and is supporting research efforts dedicated to making sure that AI remains beneficial.
So far, no AI software possesses anything near the capabilities that would be necessary to endanger human life. Instead, most AI software is dedicated to far more mundane tasks like understanding natural language, identifying objects and faces in pictures, offering shopping recommendations and finding answers to common questions. However, this technology is progressing at an extremely rapid pace. Many AI agents employ machine learning techniques to become "smarter" over time, and many technology companies both large and small are actively investing in AI research.
The list below includes 45 of the most interesting artificial intelligence projects currently underway. The first half of the list focuses on the efforts of some of the world's largest technology companies, while the second half details some of the work being done in the open source community and at smaller vendors. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it does include much of the most noteworthy AI software known to be under development.
Big Blue was one of the early pioneers of artificial intelligence, and introduced the masses to modern AI when its Watson system took part in the television game show Jeopardy. It generally refers to its AI solutions with the term "cognitive computing," and it sells them under the brand name "Watson." It has dozens of different AI products and services available, and they generally fall into two categories: developer tools and premade applications that use Watson technology. The company is also sponsoring a $5 million competition that challenges startups to use AI to "tackle some of the world's grand challenges."
1. Watson APIs
Designed for developers, these tools allow other companies to utilize Watson cognitive computing capabilities in their own apps. It currently offers about 19 different APIs with capabilities like concept expansion, conversation, language translation, personality insights, tone analyzer, relationship extraction, speech to text, text to speech, visual recognition and analytics. They can be accessed through the IBM Watson Developer Cloud service.
In the Watson Marketplace, IBM offers applications it has built that are based on its cognitive computing technology. These include Watson Trend (a personal shopper app), Watson Analytics, Talent Insights, Analytics for Social Media and Watson for Clinical Trial Matching (for the healthcare industry).
IBM has open sourced some of its machine learning technology, including SystemML. Now an Apache Incubator Project, SystemML "aims at flexible specification of ML algorithms and automatic generation of hybrid runtime plans ranging from single node, in-memory computations to distributed computations on MapReduce or Spark."
Known for dedicating a lot of resources to research, Google has an internal team calledGoogle Brainthat works on AI projects. Much of their work gets applied to Google's other products, including search and the Google Now Android personal assistant. It has also released some of their team's work as open source applications, and the group has published quite a few papers on AI.
One of Google's open source AI projects created by the Google Brain Team, Tensor Flow is a "library for numerical computation using data flow graphs." The website includes Python and C++ APIs that allow developers to use Google's AI capabilities in their own apps.
Google makes some of its machine learning technology available to developers through its Google Cloud platform. It uses the same services for many of its own products, including Photos image search, Google voice search, Translate and Gmail smart reply.
In 2014, Google bought a London-based AI startup called DeepMind. This group's most visible work to date has been creating the AlphaGo system, which was "the first computer program to ever beat a professional player at the game of Go." The team is also working on applying reinforcement learning to machine learning and applying deep learning technology to the field of healthcare.
Google doesn't provide a lot of details about the factors that contribute to rankings on its search engine, but it has said that it uses an AI technology called RankBrain as part of the algorithm. RankBrain can guess at the meaning of search terms it has never seen before and bring up relevant results. It isn't available for download or for sale but is the subject of much interest within the technology industry.
Like the other large technology companies, Microsoft has a sizable internal team devoted to machine learning and artificial intelligence. It has subgroups focused on algorithmic economics, deep learning, machine learning, machine teaching, natural language computing and more, and it has a long list of current projects on its website. Their innovations have also been integrated into other Microsoft products and services.
Microsoft's personal assistant software, known as Cortana, is perhaps its most visible AI product. It has been incorporated into Windows 10 and is also available for Android and iOS. It can perform tasks like providing updates, delivering reminders and handling natural language searches.
In recent years, Microsoft has begun embracing open source, and it has released some of its AI technology on GitHub. CNTK, short for Computational Network Toolkit, is a tool that allows developers to apply distributed deep learning to their own projects. It was recently updated to enable faster performance and better scalability.
Another open source project, the Distributed Machine Learning Toolkit (DMLT) assists with the training of big models for machine learning applications. It includes the DMTK Framework, the Light LDA topic model algorithm and the Distributed (Multisense) Word Embedding algorithm.
Microsoft also offers developers several AI APIs on a subscription basis, with free tiers available. Current APIs include Computer Vision, Emotion, Face, Video, Bing Speech, Language Understanding, Knowledge Exploration, Recommendations and more. Microsoft has also used these APIs to build several sample applications, some of which have gone viral in social media.
12. Project Malmo
In this interesting project, Microsoft researchers are introducing AI to the game Minecraft. They are working to teach the AI how to make sense of complex environments, learn from others and transfer learned skills to new problem-solving challenges. It's currently a private beta that Microsoft plans to release under an open source license.
In March 2016, Microsoft set loose an AI chatterbot named Tay that was designed to interact and learn from people on Twitter. In less than a day, other Twitter users had taught Tay to make racist and offensive comments, and Microsoft took it offline. It re-released Tay a week later only to encounter similar problems. The company says it plans to put Tay back on Twitter "once it can make the bot safe."
The social network has invested heavily in artificial intelligence, primarily through an internal group it calls. Facebook AI Research (FAIR). Much of this research into fields like natural language processing and computer vision gets applied directly to Facebook itself through features like face tagging and newsfeed rankings. The group has also published several papers and contributes to open source AI projects.
Purchased by Facebook in 2015, Wit.ai offers developer tools for building bots that communicate with humans. Its voice recognition technology can also be used for interacting with mobile apps, home automation, wearables or even robots.