Scientists Say: Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is all around us — from our computers to our phones to even some cars

two teens sit side by side on a bus, one leaned over the other's shoulder to look at their phone together

Artificial intelligence technologies power many of the apps on our smartphones — from maps that plot out the best routes to take based on current traffic, to music streaming services that recommend new tunes based on our past listens.

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Artificial intelligence (noun, “Art-uh-FISH-uhl In-TELL-uh-jents”)

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is technology that can do complex tasks that used to require human smarts. It is also the field of science focused on building that technology.

Examples of AI are all around us. AI technologies power smart assistants such as Siri and search engines like Google. They recommend movies and music on streaming services. They can transcribe speech or translate text.

Much of today’s AI is based on machine learning. This is a type of computing where an algorithm teaches itself to do something based on examples or experience. Machine learning has allowed computers to get better at some tasks than people. For instance, computers can beat the world’s best human players at complex strategy games such as Go.

But all of today’s AI is artificial “narrow” intelligence. That is, it can do only a narrow set of tasks based on its programming or training. A chess-playing AI can’t drive a car. And the computer vision systems that help a self-driving car get around can’t play chess. Artificial “general” intelligence would be a machine that could learn, reason and act just like a human. But that tech does not yet exist.

In a sentence

Determining whether artificial intelligence has truly reached human-level intelligence is really difficult.

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Maria Temming is the Assistant Managing Editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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