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What does “artificial intelligence” even mean?


Artificial intelligence used to be something we only read about in science fiction or saw on the big screen. Today, everyone is at least familiar with the concept of artificial intelligence thanks to media attention. Though we have a pretty good grasp of what artificial means, coming up with a concrete definition of exactly what constitutes artificial intelligence is easier said than done. As artificial intelligence begins to become a reality, a useable definition of artificial intelligence that is universally acceptable is going to be necessary in order to regulate their use in various circumstances. Any laws and policies designed to regulate artificial intelligence will be worthless without a widely accepted definition of the terms.

Defining the terms

The word “artificial” is by far the easier word to define for legal purposes. It simply means, “not occurring in nature or not occurring in the same form in nature”. In short anything man-made that might imitate something that is naturally occurring. This definition of “artificial” even covers the possibility of using modified biological materials in the creation of artificially intelligent “machines”.

The word “intelligence” is where it gets difficult. The difficulty in defining the term is nothing new. In the world of philosophy, the meaning of the word “intelligence” and the meaning of other words connected to it such as “consciousness”, “thought”, “free will”, and “mind” have been debated for centuries—back to the time of Aristotle.

Currently, in the field of artificial intelligence, researches contrast artificial intelligence with human intelligence. This merely places the burden of proof onto psychologists. There is no real solid definition of artificial intelligence that doesn’t depend on a comparison to human intelligence.

While it is easy for even the average person to tell the difference between a programmable machine and a true AI system, the difficulty lies in differentiating between AI systems that merely give the appearance of intelligence and those systems that can be said to truly imitate human intelligence.

Sidestepping the question

Though coming up with a philosophical definition of the word “intelligence” that we can all agree on may still be centuries away, the need for a working definition of “artificial intelligence” is immediate. For would-be regulators of the use of artificial intelligence outside the laboratory, they need to ask themselves, “What risks does artificial intelligence pose?”

Already artificial intelligence is making a way into our day-to-day lives. As AI becomes more mainstream, there will be important societal implications. Corporations can use AI to take jobs away from humans. AI systems may be used to commit crimes. Unless there is an acceptable definition of artificial intelligence that can be used to regulate their use—and soon—we may face the future unprepared.

Source: Popular Science