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Artificial intelligence is one of those technologies that has become so ubiquitous in our lives that we don't even notice it's there anymore. For those old enough to remember when the first rudimentary AIs were presented to the public, artificial intelligence is still often considered as something extremely complex. On the other hand, younger people who have been surrounded by artificial intelligence since they were born view the technology as being relatively mundane. It’s in almost every phone camera, after all. Data online is tracked, scraped and used for various other purposes. 

There is no denying that artificial intelligence has come a very long way since those early days. However, we have yet to witness any of the grand breakthroughs that we were promised decades ago. Just how far have we come? And could we be heading for another AI winter?

AI Today

Perhaps the most basic form of AI and the form that we encounter in our daily lives is the recommendation algorithms that are omnipresent across digital services. These algorithms look at our past behavior, the things we have watched or consumed before, and use that data to make predictions about the future. In order to do this, the AI needs to take into account a variety of different data points.

However, artificial intelligence is increasingly being used for surveillance purposes. Nowhere is this clearer than in the proliferation of facial recognition technology. China has turned its Western province of Xinjiang into a virtual open-air prison. Facial recognition technology is present throughout the territory and is used to monitor the native Uyghur population.

This is bad enough in itself, but it's made all the worse by the fact that China is now actively exporting this technology to Africa. On a technical level, this technology is very impressive. But on a human level, it is utterly repugnant. The proliferation of these technologies has also soured the term artificial intelligence in many people's minds as they increasingly associate AI with oppressive technologies.

Market Forces

Artificial intelligence is finding its way into a growing range of consumer products. For example, most of us now know someone who has a smart speaker in their home. These devices work by sending voice recordings to a remote server where they are analyzed using artificial intelligence. Similarly, the response that your smart device is giving to your command is also determined using artificial intelligence.

However, we have not seen any truly ground-breaking advances in AI for some time. We are constantly finding new ways to implement machine learning, and we are already achieving some truly impressive things with this form of artificial intelligence. The problem is, while the capabilities of machine learning are very impressive, we are yet to devise ways of properly monetizing them.

Without a financial incentive, what reason is there for most businesses to invest in artificial intelligence? A lack of commercial interest in AI is seen by many as an indicator of an impending AI winter.

AI Winter

An AI winter refers to a time during which there is little commercial interest and support for artificial intelligence. There have been several points in the past that are considered AI winters by academics, but there is no universal agreement as to when these winters have occurred. 

Part of the problem is that the term artificial intelligence seems to mean different things to different people. For some people, artificial intelligence means replicating human intelligence in a machine. However, most researchers are willing to accept a much more rudimentary intelligence as qualifying as AI.

But, however you define artificial intelligence, virtually everyone is in agreement that the field is feeling a little bit stale. Although artificial intelligence today is significantly more capable and complicated than it was in previous decades, it still has not lived up to the promises that many of us can remember from our childhoods.

As a result, many people have become disillusioned with artificial intelligence. There was a time when people were told that, within a few decades, we would have AIs that would be indistinguishable from human intelligence. However, as yet, there is no artificial intelligence capable of beating the Turing test.

The reality is that while artificial intelligence today is significantly more advanced, most of the implementations of the technology that we are familiar with feel mundane and perhaps even underwhelming. Without consumers clamoring for more advanced artificial intelligence, or AI in their day-to-day lives, businesses don't seem to know what to do.

No doubt, sooner or later someone will come up with an absolutely killer application of artificial intelligence that will put to bed any talk of an AI winter. However, until then, the outlook for the artificial intelligence industry is not great. 

There is little doubt that the AI industry will survive, and ultimately thrive, but it is going to take something special to reverse the current fortunes. There is nothing exciting on the horizon and the most impressive applications of the tech so far are as a tool of oppression.


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