It can combine that information to help manage your workload. If an e-mail comes in from someone very important, the computer will always put it through. If it's from someone not so important and you're busy, it can save the e-mail for later. The software can do that with all kinds of information, including phone calls coming in and going out of your office. The thinking at Microsoft is that these capabilities might someday be a part of every computer's operating system.
Schwab's AI implementation seems less grand but no less helpful. It's using AI technology from iPhrase that can comprehend a typed sentence. More than just looking for key words, it can figure out what you really mean, even if you make spelling mistakes. So you could type, "Which of these has the most revenue?" and get the answer you were looking for. Based on the page you have up, it would know what you mean by "these." On Schwab's Web site, www.schwab.com, this is supposed to help users find information.
Beyond all the near-term uses of AI, there's the nearly unfathomable stuff.
The trends that brought AI from the failures of the mid-1980s to breakthrough success 15 years later will continue. Computers will get more powerful. Software will get more clever. AI will creep closer toward human capabilities.
If you want a glimpse of where this is heading, look inside MIT's AI lab. Among the dozens of projects there is Cog. The project is trying to give a robot humanlike behaviors, one piece at a time. One part of Cog research is focused on eye movement and face detection. Another is to get Cog to reach out and grab something it sees. Another involves hearing a rhythm and learning to repeat it on drums.
A Brain Like a Cat's
In Belgium, Starlab is attempting to build an artificial brain that can run a life-size cat. It will have about 75 million artificial neurons, Web site Artificialbrains.com reports. It will be able to walk and play with a ball. It's supposed to be finished in 2002.
Labs all over the globe are working on advanced, brainlike AI. That includes labs at Carnegie Mellon University, IBM and Honda in Japan. "We're getting a better understanding of human intelligence," Kurzweil says. "We're reverse-engineering the brain. We're a lot further along than people think."
But can AI actually get close to human capability? Most scientists believe it's only a matter of time. Kurzweil says it could come as early as 2020. IBM's Horn says it's more like 2040 or 2050. AT&T's Stone says his goal is to build a robotic soccer team that can challenge a professional human soccer team by 2050. He's serious.
In many ways, an artificial brain would be better than a human brain. A human brain learns slowly. Becoming fluent in French can take years of study. But once one artificial brain learns to speak French, the French-speaking software code could be copied and instantly downloaded into any other artificial brain. A robot could learn French in seconds.
A tougher question is whether artificial intelligence could have emotions. No one knows.
And a frightening question is whether AI robots could get smarter than humans and turn the tables on us. Kurzweil, technologist Bill Joy and others have been saying that's possible. Horn isn't so sure. Though raw computing power might surpass the brain, he says, "that doesn't mean it will have any of the characteristics of a human being, because the software isn't there to do that."
Horvitz has a brighter outlook, which at least makes the AI discussion more palatable. He says humans are always getting better at guiding and managing computers, so we'll stay in control. "Most of us (in AI) believe this will make the world a better place," he says. "A lot of goodness will come of it."
Artificial Intelligence Part 1: AI Isn't Just a Movie; Machines Today Can "Think"
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