The definition of “intelligent machines” makes them sound downright boring: “a machine that uses sensors to monitor the environment and thereby adjust its actions to accomplish specific tasks in the face of uncertainty and variability.”1
But in reality, intelligent machines are pretty exciting, especially when you consider how they enhance our everyday lives. For example, we rely on Google Maps for directions, apps like Uber and Lyft for rides, spam filters for getting rid of junk email, Amazon for finding the perfect gift for our 12-year-old niece, Alexa for telling us when dinner is ready, and Pandora for playing just the right song when we’re in the mood to celebrate. So, let’s celebrate intelligent machines by taking a look at how they appear to think for themselves, and sometime us, too.
Intelligent machines are a form of artificial intelligence (AI) created by machine learning. Machine learning is the process of “teaching” a machine an algorithm by inputting volumes of data until it has enough historical information to accurately predict future outcomes. Instead of following written code or instructions, intelligent machines “learn how” by adapting to a steady stream of data.
Think of facial recognition. As you’re tagged in pictures over time, Facebook starts to recognize your unique characteristics, and as the number of tags of you increases, the recognition technology becomes more accurate so that it can correctly and automatically tag you.
From ancient inventions of wooden and stone tools millions of years ago, to the industrial revolution of the past century, to today’s ever-evolving automation, humans seem to be hardwired to invent and improve technology to simplify our lives and make us more productive. AI takes that a step further: It not only performs our routine cognitive tasks with greater speed and precision, but also continually builds and improves our knowledge. In other words, intelligent machines do more than just provide fast answers—they create new information.
This new information is being used to improve safety, precision, and efficiency in everything from medicine to transportation, education to cybersecurity, shopping to investing. And by performing a quick query of “intelligent machines” in IP.com’s InnovationQ™ search tool, we revealed that the most relevant patents concerning intelligent machines are designed for machining systems and the innovations surrounding them. Three of the top four provide evidence:
US5473532 Intelligent machining system: an intelligent machining system capable of learning corrected machining conditions to determine optimum machining conditions without requiring the assistance of a skilled operator.
US20050171629 Intelligent STEP-NC controller: An intelligent STEP-NC (Standard for the Exchange of Product model-Numerical Controller) capable of performing a machining process based on an ISO 14649 data model while effectively coping with an emergency at a shop-floor, thereby overcoming discontinuity of information in a CAD-CAM-CNC chain and realizing a “design-to-manufacture” concept in the true sense.
US5917726 Intelligent machining and manufacturing: “Intelligent” control of production processes such as machining, casting, heat treating and welding. The key enabler of such control is electro-optical or other suitable sensors, generally non contact, capable of rapidly and accurately acquiring data from parts and tools used to produce them in a production “in-process” environment. Systems are disclosed to control not only the instant operation, but those processes connected therewith, both upstream and downstream. Data bases are generated and knowledge bases are used. Application of the invention can improve quality and productivity, and allow the production of parts which have unusual or individual material characteristics.
The bold, italicized phrases above are great examples of how intelligent machines can streamline tasks, improve precision, and increase efficiency.
So, to all the naysayers who fear intelligent machines will take jobs away from humans, perhaps it’s just the opposite. As intelligent machines increase productivity and improve quality, they just may increase growth and actually create jobs.
At the very least, AI as a category seems to be creating jobs, or at least patents: In a 2017 list of the top areas of technology patent growth2, AI and autonomous vehicles were ranked third and fourth, respectively. And that certainly deserves our respect.