#Asia AI 101: What is it, and what can we expect from it?

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Appier’s CEO Chih-han Yu provides valuable insights on the nature of Artificial Intelligence and what it will mean to us

Chih-Han Yu_Co-Founder and CEO of Appier

Advanced technology advancements have made artificial intelligence more ubiquitous in our modern society. It is present in robotics, cars and is even tackling ancient board games. But what exactly is AI and what benefits will it bestow upon our world in the future? e27 speaks to Chih-han Yu, CEO and co-founder of artificial intelligence company Appier, to find out more

What is AI, in the simplest terms?

Artificial intelligence is the development of computer systems that can perform tasks that normally require human or animal intelligence. So, simply put, AI is a software or algorithm that allows computer to be able to make decision is, or in other words, “think”, which is widely regarded as a sign of intelligence.

This doesn’t mean that these computers have minds in the same way that humans do, but it does mean that they can mimic or, in a way, even surpass, human intelligence in rational decision making by building from an initial framework of rules to create a more robust system.

What is the Turing test?

Alan Turing is one of the pioneers of modern computing. He came up with a test for artificial intelligence, the basic idea being that if a human could not tell a computer apart from a human in a conversation, the computer could be said to “think”.

So any computer program that can chat like a person is AI?

Yes. These sorts of chat programs, or chatbots, that can answer a customer’s simple questions, or give logical answers to simple questions are definitely AI systems. But AI has much wider applications. Many of the things that we’re familiar with today are powered with AI — from video games to music and movie recommendation systems to digital personal assistants… The list goes on. Being able to chat like a person is just one application of AI!

What is big data, how does it differ from machine learning and AI?

Big data simply refers to large sets of information. It’s the crucial raw ingredient that makes AI possible. Data by itself isn’t very useful, especially when you’re talking about larger sets of information — it’s like putting all the ingredients of a cake together in a bowl.

The sugar, eggs and flour are edible, but barely, and definitely not tasty! Once we have all the ingredients together we need to process it. This is where techniques “machine learning” come in. Just like a blender mixes together all the ingredients to create a much more useful cake batter, these techniques help computers process all the information, find patterns and “learn”. The result of all this is artificial intelligence. Which is the cake!

And of course, with AI, you can really have your cake and eat it too — with more feedback and information, these systems can continue to identify more patterns, work faster and be more accurate, so they will continually be more helpful and useful in their tasks.

Your background is in robotics — things like Little Dog and robotic legs — why the switch to business applications?

In one word — impatience! This is going back about 10 years. I could see that AI could have a big impact on the world, but was also starting to realise that robotics was not only a longer way off, but also, in a sense, more limited. For example, work on the principles behind robotic dogs and self-driving cars has been going on for well over a decade, but it’s only now that we’re seeing part of these commercially.

This is what switched my interest to what I call “everyday AI” — AI that almost works in the background to make things easier, simpler or faster, and can be launched and improved upon quickly, relatively speaking. Here, the AI systems help crunch the enormous amount of information we face everyday, and turn them into useful, actionable insights. So, while not as flashy, this is one of the most exciting developments driving innovation in the field today.

The first switch or pivot we made based on that principle was to the gaming industry (partly because of our own love of gaming!) to see how AI-powered avatars could keep their users connected to the social graph, and help their users automate things like greetings, routine tasks in the games and so on.

Pretty soon, the clients and partners we were working with at the time would ask us for our help applying our AI technology to help make sense of their internal data. This increased our interest in business applications, and the more we explored this possibility, the more potential we saw, and this eventually led to our last pivot to the Appier of today.

How as the field of AI changed since you started out 15 years ago?

Theoretically, philosophically, the idea of AI today is very similar to what the first AI scientists thought of 30-40 years ago. At it’s core, it’s about “teaching” computers to act or think smartly — to mimic human decision-making.

What’s different for us today is, first, the amount of information — or data — available us, and second, the computing power available to us. These two elements make ideas that seemed unfeasible and unreal at the time, a reality today.

This combination of having enough information and computing power means that present day AI systems can learn rules more easily. So today, the field of AI is more diverse — we’re seeing a broader variety in the application of AI in various industries, from logistics to business and marketing. And as algorithms get more sophisticated, and computers get more powerful, we can expect this trend to continue and the applications of AI widen.

Where do you see AI going in the next 5-10 years?

I think the expansion in the applications of AI will continue. In theory, any field or industry that relies on and creates data can leverage AI. Today, this is virtually every industry! It could be a bank using AI-powered systems to make better investments, or doctors using AI-assisted medical decision-making to monitor and treat their patients.

On an everyday level, everything around will get smarter. We’re already at the start of this curve. With more connected devices every day, many things in our daily lives with act automatically to help us — to save time, to automatically take care of routine tasks — from automation of repetitive chores to organizing information to our personal preferences and aiding in enterprise decision-making.

In one word, the potential of AI is…

Endless!

Disclosure: This article was produced by the e27 content marketing team in collaboration with Appier.

Want to hear more of what Chih-han Yu has to say? Don’t forget to secure your tickets to Echelon Asia Summit 2016 (link to e27.co/echelon/asia/) this June 15-16 at Singapore EXPO! e27 fans only: Enjoy an extra 20% off with promo code *SUMMIT20*!

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