With fire came artificial intelligence

The creation and development of artificial intelligence can be traced back to Greek mythical hero Prometheus.

Illustrative stock photoIllustrative stock photo (Source: AP/TASR)

Martin Spano is the author of Artificial Intelligence in a Nutshell, a book that explores the mystified subject of artificial intelligence (AI) with simple non-technical language. Spano’s passion for AI began after he watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, but he insists this ever-changing technology is not just a subject of sci-fi novels and movies; artificial intelligence is present in our everyday lives.

The story of Prometheus and Epimetheus

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In a classical Greek myth, Zeus, king of the gods, orders Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus, also gods, to create all creatures on earth. Each animal should have at least one unique ability so that it can survive and prosper. Epimetheus, being rash and impulsive, quickly created many animals, giving each of them one skill at a time. Some beings could fly. Others were able to swim. Some of them possessed swiftness, others strength. Prometheus, being wise and thoughtful, processed slowly and carefully, creating a man from clay. He shaped the man on the image of the gods, being able to walk upright so that he might observe the heavens. However, when finished, Prometheus finds out that Epimetheus distributed all the abilities and there is nothing left for the humans. While other creatures possess speed, strength or a warm coating, man remains naked, slow and weak. Facing the problem of the survival of his creation, he does something heretical - he gives the man the only thing he is forbidden to hand over - fire. When Zeus finds out about his betrayal, he punishes Prometheus by chaining him to the mountain where each day an eagle eats his liver alive, whereby at night, his liver grows again to its full size. Prometheus suffers for eons until finally being saved by Heracles, another Greek mythical hero.

From fire to AI

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Humans are by nature not very suitable for survival. Compared to other animals, we are not very fast, nor strong, nor do we have the best senses. We need years until our children are capable of living on their own. The reason we are at the top of the food chain is that we can use technology. Technology augments our natural abilities. It expands our physical and mental capabilities. During our history, we made many discoveries. There are several of them that significantly advanced the way we live. Intentional use of fire enabled us to digest more food. It also acted as a protection against predators. Agriculture lifted us from the savagery of life in the wild. Industrial revolution amplified our physical strength. Finally, computers augmented our mental capabilities. Each iteration of the technology enabled us to lead more fulfilling and meaningful lives. The next iteration is called artificial intelligence.

Why is there so much talk about artificial intelligence these days? The short answer is that in recent years we have reached the scale of computing and data together with theoretical breakthroughs that enabled some remarkable advancements in the discipline. For the longer answer, please keep on reading.

Technology for our everyday lives

I am a computer scientist, and many people ask me the question: "What has artificial intelligence done for me lately? I mean, do I get a better TV, do I get better internet?" The answer is yes. Depending on the level of your technological enthusiasm, your day might look like this. You get up and grab your mobile to check your email. Your email provider filters your messages from spam using artificial intelligence. You check the newsfeed of your favorite social network created for you with artificial intelligence. If you commute by car, the ideal route to work is suggested to you using artificial intelligence. When searching for the information on your preferred search engine, you get the results you want with the help of artificial intelligence. When you come home and want to listen to some music or watch a movie on your streaming network, the titles are suggested to you by artificial intelligence. If you visit an online shop, you get offers for similar products once again thanks to artificial intelligence.

Many people might be surprised to hear that a spam filter or newsfeed generator uses artificial intelligence. They imagine the artificial intelligence to be like movie characters Hal, Terminator or Wall-E. They are correct. However, while this type of artificial intelligence does not exist yet, a slightly different kind of it is omnipresent in our everyday life.

The Slovak Spectator will publish more extracts from Spano’s book in the coming weeks.

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