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What is AI?

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

We are human, and that is a complicated thing to be - yet most people know more about how their computer works than about the workings of their own mind. But it turns out most people know very little about either. An informal poll of around 100 people from all walks of life revealed that not one person could tell me what artificial intelligence or machine learning really are. One person even thought it was something wrong with your neck.... Yet most people had heard of it, which is hardly surprising since it’s everyday jargon. There was a general sense of unease about it though.

This apparent ignorance is not dissimilar within the context of 'mindfulness', a term equally perplexing to most people, yet one which enjoys an enormous success. It’s lauded as the answer to almost everything these days, yet a term few can definitively define. Once at a dinner party I asked each of the 10 people there, privately, in turn what they thought about mindfulness. Everyone single one of them said it was ‘marvellous’, some had even been to courses on. it. Yet when I asked the group if someone could define what mindfulness actually was to me - not one of them could!

Another informal poll showed me that Einsteins magic formula E = MC2 was a mystery to all with the exception of one exceptional man who meticulously described the workings of the atom bomb to me. It made great sense at the time but seemed to have so little relevance to my life my brain promptly forgot what he said. This is yet another example of something that everyone has heard of but nobody has a clue what it actually is.

There are many other examples. Whole subjects are taught in school yet with so many leaving none the wiser or really understanding anything beyond remembering jargon terminology. Science and English are probably the worst offenders, the A* culprits confusing children’s minds, with them having to learn about such things as 'fronted adverbials’ and prepositions and pick these out from text in an exam. It’s more of a memory test than anything else. But what really is ‘light’ or a ‘black hole’ - what do these words actually mean? The inspired play by Tom Stoppard ‘Arcadia’ brilliantly exposes this theme with the scientists creating apparently great formulas, yet it’s a 13 year old girl who actually provides clarity on understanding what they mean in plain English.

So why is this? How come there is so much terminology and jargon that is so inaccessible to most? How come most people know so little about apparently mainstream things? You have to be a mathematician to understand maths, a physicist to understand physics, to be a marketer to understand the daily jargon speak in the retail sector. With subjects being divided into sectors they become more like secret ‘clubs’ that subject areas, yet they all connect up far more than people realise. Most people are put off science because it’s seemingly so incomprehensible and abstract, but it is far more interesting and important than people realise. Have you ever thought that if we all joined up our knowledge across subjects, so much more would be knowns and so many more problems could be solved.

But part of the problem is that people dont want to lose face, everyone always thinks that everyone else knows better than them, what something means and so if you don’t you don’t dare ask. So many are too embarrassed to admit they don’t understand something, because nobody wants to come across as dumb.

But if you stop and think about it, it’s kind of comical that all of these things are so ill understoodl. AI and ML are a growing influence in our world yet aren’t perhaps quite as they seem, but no-one knows what they are anyway. In the case of mindfulness there are millions of apps, magazines, books, organisational training and school time dedicated to this great thing, it’s a multimillion worldwide business. Yet so few actually know what it really is.

Some schools have introduced mindfulness into the curriculum. In this circumstance I have deduced that it amounts to calm time when children colour and lie down on the floor and listen to music, relax and breath. It’s down time. Boy do they need it between being bombarded with information day after day, most of which goes in one ear and out the other. Lying down and listening to chanting is probably quite nice then.

My son taught me a technique ... 'Mummy." He would say. "Breathe in and breathe out, breath in and breath out." He would say this at times when I was evidently stressed. Yet once came the time when he was stressed out himself and I said the same words to him. He gave me a thunderous look and just told me to piss off...

To be Part 2

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