AI Explained: What Makes A Machine Intelligent?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the science that develops machines, computers, and hardware with intelligence ranging from simple to human-like.

Though the concept of intelligent machines can be traced back to Greek mythology, AI’s modern history begins with the development of stored-program electronic computers. The term was coined in 1956 at the first AI conference, according to AI Magazine.

AI progress, which was once painfully slow, has been advancing at a rapid rate, with some predicting human-level AI will be achieved in the 2030’s.

Here’s the different capabilities that constitute AI, how they work, and why some worry about the technology.

AI explained


One of the simplest AI qualities is the ability to solve problems. To construct this capability, scientists have equipped machines with algorithms that imitate human reasoning and employ concepts of probability, economics, and statistics.

Approaches include models inspired by neural networks in the brain, capable of machine learning and pattern recognition, and statistical approaches, which use mathematical tools and languages to solve problems.

Machine learning

Another key aspect of AI is a machine’s ability to learn. There is no one way that computers can be programmed to acquire information, retain knowledge and adjust behavior accordingly – rather, there are a number of approaches, usually algorithm-based.

One notable method machine learning program is what some call deep learning, an AI method based on the neural theory, composed of tangled layers of interconnected nodes, NPR says.

While Apple’s Siri is one example of deep learning in action, Google has recently acquired a deep learning AI startup called “DeepMind,” which specializes in cutting edge AI learning algorithms, and Netflix is reportedly investing in deep learning as well.

In 2016, Microsoft deep learning was showcased via a teen chatbot named Tay. The project, designed to incorporate user chat sessions into Tay’s deep learning AI, was stopped after only one day when Tay started using  questionable and sometimes hateful speech that she had learned from humans during the one-day period.

AI explained

 Language processing


Natural Language Processing (NLP) gives machines the ability to read and understand human language, enabling communication between person and machine.

Such systems allow computers translation and communication abilities via signal processing, syntactic analysis, semantic analysis, and pragmatics (language in context), according to the Consortium of Cognitive Science Instruction.

Motion and perception

The type of intelligence related to motion and perception is where AI meets robotics, giving machines not only cognitive but sensual intellect.

This is possible through navigation inputs, localization technology, and sensors like cameras, microphones, sonar, and object recognition – technology we’ve seen demonstrated in a number of robots, ocean rovers, and space rovers in recent years.

Social intelligence

Emotional and social skills constitute another advanced level of AI that allow machines to take on even more humanoid qualities, as discussed in the paper (pd) Considering Social and Emotional Artificial Intelligence.

The company SEMAINE is aiming to give machines these social skills via what they call a SAL, or Sensitive Artificial Listener. This advanced dialogue system, if successful, would perceive facial expression, gaze, and voice, and be able to engage accordingly.

AI explained



The ability to think and act creatively is a distinctly human trait that many view as above the capability of computers. As an aspect of human intelligence, however, it comes to reason the trait could be applicable to AI as well.

That’s exactly what one article in AI Magazine argues, claiming machines can be given the capability to come up with both novel and valuable ideas through three models: combinational, exploratory, and transformational.

Examples of such successful creative machines are the joke-bot JAPE (pdf), and the painting machine AARON which produces original and museum quality artwork.

AI explained

AI Explained: There might also be a dark side

For many years AI just seemed like a distant promise, but recent rapid advancements have led leading technologists to worry that things are moving too fast.

Without proper oversight and controls unscrupulous AI innovators could target the technology to game financial markets or political systems. The technology is already being applied to military efforts.  with the US military planning to spend billions on researching weapons that utilize AI.

Some tech luminaries and deep thinkers have issued stern warnings about the technology, including Steven Hawken, who warns that AI could wipe out humanity.

Tech innovator Elon Musk is so concerned that he and others plan to fund a $1 billion effort to prevent AI from taking over mankind. An open letter signed by Musk, Hawking and other tech leaders argues for caution against potential pitfalls of the technology.

To understand more about AI, consider reading a book that Bill Gates recommends. “Superintelligence”, by Nick Bolstrom, describes the future of AI and the positive and negative impacts it may have.


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Jennifer Markert