What does AI really mean?


AI has the potential to be the single greatest achievement in the history of mankind but how many of us understand what AI means? Repeat any word enough times, and it eventually loses all meaning and the phrase “artificial intelligence” fell apart in this way a long time ago.

AI is everywhere, it’s in the news every day, it’s said to be powering everything from your TV to your toothbrush, but never have the words themselves meant less. But it shouldn’t be this way.

Did you know for instance that there are 4 different types of AI? If you didn’t, you better keep reading.

Type 1 – Reactive Machines

Reactive machines are the most basic type of artificial intelligence. These machines can’t form memories or use past experiences to influence present-made decisions; they can only react to currently existing situations. An existing form of a reactive machine is Deep Blue, a chess-playing supercomputer created by IBM in the mid-1980s.

Reactive machines have no concept of the world and therefore can’t function beyond the simple tasks for which they are programmed which means no matter the time or place, these machines will always behave the way they were programmed. There is no growth with reactive machines, only stagnation in recurring actions and behaviours. 

Type 2 – Limited Memory

Limited memory is comprised of machine learning models that derive knowledge from previously-learned information, stored data, or events. Unlike reactive machines, limited memory learns from the past by observing actions or data fed to them in order to build experiential knowledge.

Although limited memory builds on observational data in conjunction with pre-programmed data the machines already contain, these sample pieces of information are fleeting. An existing form of limited memory is autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars, use the principle of limited memory in that they depend on a combination of observational and pre-programmed knowledge. To observe and understand how to properly drive and function among human-dependent vehicles, self-driving cars read their environment, detect patterns or changes in external factors, and adjust as necessary.

Type 3 - Theory of Mind

We cracked type 1 and type 2 AI several years ago, but we’ve yet to fully master theory of mind AI which constitutes a decision-making ability equal to the extent of a human mind. While there are some machines that currently exhibit humanlike capabilities (voice assistants, for instance), none are yet fully capable of holding conversations relative to human standards.

The biggest stumbling block is teaching machines how to understand and express emotions as well as sounding and behaving as a person would in standard conventions of conversation.

This future class of machine ability would include understanding that people have thoughts and emotions that affect behavioural output and thus influence a “theory of mind” machine’s thought process. Social interaction is a key facet of human interaction, so to make theory of mind machines tangible, the AI systems that control the now-hypothetical machines would have to identify, understand, retain, and remember emotional output and behaviours while knowing how to respond to them.

Type 4- Self-awareness

Self-aware AI involves machines that have human-level consciousness. This form of AI is not currently in existence but would be considered the most advanced form of artificial intelligence known to man. 

Facets of self-aware AI include the ability to not only recognize and replicate humanlike actions, but also to think for itself, have desires, and understand its feelings. Self-aware AI, in essence, is an advancement and extension of theory of mind AI. Where theory of mind only focuses on the aspects of comprehension and replication of human practices, self-aware AI takes it a step further by implying that it can and will have self-guided thoughts and reactions.

When the first artificial intelligence programme was created in 1955, few people could have imagined AI would come some far and as it continues to develop at a staggering rate, it’s not unthinkable to expect self-aware AI to one day be a part of our lives.

To find out how AI is helping to save lives and deliver better patient care, read our blog here.  

Posted by Helen Thomas