There’s a lot about AI in the news recently. Have you ever wondered how your smartphone recognises your face or fingerprint, how predictive texting works (or doesn’t), or how voice-response devices, such as Siri or Alexa work? Or how your favourite streaming service can predict the sort of movies you might like to watch?

It’s all down to Artificial Intelligence – or AI as it is abbreviated to. Essentially, AI is about computer technology being able to 'think' for itself, and make decisions based on the data it's being fed. AI can process huge amounts of information much more quickly and more efficiently than any human brain.

Birth of AI: 1950-1956

Alan Turing published his work ‘Computer Machinery and Intelligence’ which eventually became The Turing Test, which experts used to measure computer intelligence. The term ‘artificial intelligence’ was coined and came into popular use.

Now this is where my brain goes into overload. AI is classed as a set of sciences, theories and techniques (including mathematical logic, statistics, probabilities, computational neurobiology and computer science) that aims to imitate the cognitive abilities of a human being. Do you remember the 1968 Stanley Kubrick film ‘2001 Space Odyssey’ where a computer – HAL - takes over, malfunctions and begins to act out of violence because he (or it) was programmed to simultaneously relay accurate information to the crew, and also keep confidential information regarding the mission from them? We only find out the truth of this concealment after HAL has been disconnected. Something to mull over, I think.

IS AI a good thing?

With AI representing such a high level of sophistication, will it be good for humanity or a danger? Before we jump to the advantages and disadvantages of AI, we need to understand what is AI in the first place. AI provides a computer programme with the ability to think and learn on its own. It is a simulation of human intelligence (hence, artificial) into machines to do things that we would normally rely on humans.

While AI has many benefits, there are also drawbacks. The benefits of AI include efficiency through task automation, data analysis for informed decisions, assistance in medical diagnosis, and the advancement of autonomous vehicles. The drawbacks of AI include job displacement, ethical concerns about bias and privacy, security risks from hacking, and a lack of human-like creativity and empathy (yes, you know those phone calls you might make to the bank where your accent isn’t recognised or it ‘mishears’).

Can you imagine trusting a robot to take out your appendix or perform complex heart surgery? Well, both scenarios are not just theoretically possible these days, and AI has changed the way surgeons perform some heart operations by allowing them to perform certain types of complex heart surgeries with smaller incisions. Surgeons perform many robot-assisted mitral valve surgeries, and in places, appendectomy surgery is a reality. They say because robotic surgery gives the surgeon a clear and precise view and better dexterity, it typically results in less pain, fewer complications and quicker recovery time for the patient.

Credits: Unsplash; Author: @andrea-de-santis;

Talk to me

Conversational AI can automate tasks that are currently performed by humans and supposedly reduce human errors and cut costs, and can deliver better customer experience, achieve higher customer engagement and satisfaction. For example, conversational AI can provide a more personalized and engaging experience by remembering customer preferences and helping customers 24/7 when no human agents are around. Hmm. From personal experience, I am not so sure about that one.

Look a better you

AI can change the way you look. Who hasn’t had a bit of fun with your phone, changing your appearance with the addition of cat’s whiskers or bunny ears, in reality, there is technology out there that can seriously change your appearance and be so realistic your mother would have to look twice. They used to say photographs cannot lie.

I guess this article was a somewhat light-hearted look at AI but actually, it’s quite scary, isn’t it? Especially when I have difficulty getting Siri to answer a straightforward question if I don’t word it correctly!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan