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What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence, commonly called AI, seems to be everywhere these days. But what actually is it?

Resource written by lauralikespi (our founder)


Artificial intelligence, or AI, does not have one clear definition (sorry to tell you). It's very common to hear someone say "well that's not really AI, is it?" (I have been guilty of this myself). So what exactly is AI? I asked many people what they thought AI is (both casually and through my PhD research) and there are some trends which always come through:

  • The public use the term AI freely, they don't feel the need to get bogged down in definitions. Anything that displays a property which they deem smart or human-like can be classed as AI. They also do not see the difference between AI and robots, and use these interchangeably.

  • Technical people tend to use Machine Learning instead of AI (because they don't believe most things are actually AI). Those who work in academia are particularly hung up on the definition of what is and isn't AI.

  • Those who use these technologies in a business setting often use Data Science rather than AI (although with the 2022 boom of Large Language Models, such as ChatGPT, businesses are saying AI more frequently).

Definitions of AI


I will be honest - defining AI is not one of my favourite past times. It usually ends up with me confusing myself (and I have a PhD in this topic). I thought I would steal some help from some others:


The original definition of AI was given by the computer scientist John McCarty in 1955 as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines”. I like this definition, it still feels true. But it is on the academic side. let's take a look at some other more recent definitions:


Artificial intelligence would be the ultimate version of Google. The ultimate search engine that would understand everything on the web. It would understand exactly what you wanted, and it would give you the right thing. We’re nowhere near doing that now. However, we can get incrementally closer to that, and that is basically what we work on.—Larry Page (who invented Google). Well this does sound like the end goal for the current flavour of AI (does it remind you of how ChatGPT is talked about?).


"...technologies emerging today that can understand, learn, and then act based on that information" - PwC. This feels a tad incomplete to me, and encompasses a lot of technologies which make not be AI but make act like it.


"Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence—perceiving, synthesizing, and inferring information—demonstrated by machines, as opposed to intelligence displayed by humans or by other animals. Example tasks in which this is done include speech recognition, computer vision, translation between (natural) languages, as well as other mappings of inputs." - Wikipedia. Similar to the PwC one.


Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence demonstrated by machines, as opposed to natural intelligence displayed by animals including humans.” - Oxford English dictionary. I find it interesting that the Oxford English dictionary has gone with a definition very close to the original.


Let’s go with the Oxford English dictionary one for now, but it leaves one question still remaining - what is intelligence?

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