A Beginner’s Guide to AI

by Sheila Mulholland
May 03, 2023
A beginner's guide to ai

We are making a massive technological leap forward, with artificial intelligence (AI) related think pieces and news items cropping up faster than anyone (besides an AI) can actually read them. Everything from smartphones to rocket ships use some form of AI to optimize processes and make the technology “smarter.” There’s no doubt that “AI-powered” is going to be the tagline of the decade as we plumb the depths of automation and identify the growing list of uses that artificial intelligence has.

There’s no stopping the progress that has been made on existing AI projects, and AI has raised a lot of questions already: Is using AI tools “cheating”? Is AI taking over operations? Is generative AI a security risk?

There aren’t any simple answers to these questions. But before we tackle the big questions, we need to get our basics straight. With that in mind, we’ve put together this quick primer to help you get to grips with the very basics of artificial intelligence.
 

What is AI? 

Back in 2007, renowned scientist and AI pioneer John McCarthy wrote, “[AI is] the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs.” This definition works if you remember that sentience and intelligence are two different concepts; what most people consider to be “thinking” in its most human sense is currently beyond the capacity of most AI projects.  

There are actually far more AI projects than most people realize, and they don’t all do the same thing. The most highly visible ones take the form of chatbots and are meant to output text or media based on user input in the form of prompts, but this capability — while incredible and impressive, no doubt — pales in comparison to how powerfully AI can work with very large data sets to deliver insights. Both styles of AI will be pivotal going forward.
 

How does AI Work (Briefly)?

The reality of developing an artificial intelligence project is pretty complex, but here’s a general idea. Provided you’ve got access to enough computational power and time, you could (in theory) create an AI by: 

  • Amassing a huge amount of data (in whichever format you want your AI’s output to be, so text data for a chatbot-style AI, etc). 
  • Feeding all that data into a neural network, which analyzes it and uses it to ‘teach’ itself. 
  • Then, as the New York Times has memorably put it, “Drawing on what they have learned, [AI systems] produce new text on their own, in what A.I. researchers call a ‘hallucination.’”
     

That’s nice, but it doesn’t tell us how AI could help – or hurt – us. So, what can AI currently do? 

 

AI Capabilities  

Chatbot-style AI projects like ChatGPT, SmarterChild, and Microsoft’s unfortunate Tay are among some of the oldest and most well-known AIs. Now that we know that these AIs are unlikely to run amok Hollywood blockbuster style, AI-powered insights are giving humans a huge hand in lots of different spaces. In the financial services field alone, Gartner has identified several promising use cases, including demand and revenue forecasting, error detection and warning, and decision support via prediction algorithms.  

 

Careers Leveraging AI 

For the job seeker, AI presents a plethora of possibilities. Particularly bright STEM-minded individuals could opt to apply their talents directly, advancing AI projects by becoming part of the teams that build and maintain AI systems. But that’s not the only way to get in on the fun!
 

AI Developers for Businesses 

These individuals could also opt to work with AI on behalf of another business or company. As artificial intelligence developers, they’ll often require the skill set of a full-stack developer and will make it their goal to solve their company’s business challenges through AI.  

According to the Enterprise Project, “The role is generally focused on integrating and implementing AI algorithms and logic into the deliverables of an IT project.” Individuals who can not only write clean code (primarily in Java, Python, or R, but different AI projects require different programming languages), but who habitually seek out new solutions for ongoing problems, will find a great match between their natural curiosity and the innovations that AI can provide.

(Read more about Building Responsible AI for 2023 and Beyond here)
 

AI for HR and Hiring Managers 

It’s not only STEM fields where AI is taking work off our plates, though. While too early to make a sweeping statement that AI will revolutionize and upend all of the roles in a modern organization, it’s a good bet that most workers in tech spaces will end up using AI or working with the insights it can provide, in one way or another in their jobs. For HR, to use only one example, “AI can also increase recruiting efficacy by matching a specific offer with individual job and employment histories to calculate the odds of whether a candidate will accept.” (Oracle)
 

AI to Save Time (i.e., Money)

The organization can now assess whether making a candidate an offer might be a worthwhile use of time and money, or if it’s better spent elsewhere. (Of course, the evolving best practice for this is to incorporate a human review step, which will be the case for a while.) This is far from the only example out there — in fact, OpenAI partner Yabble, a market research firm from New Zealand, leverages AI insights to help brands understand their customers from the ground up. Using openAI’s GPT-3 neural network, by their own estimation Yabble has saved their customers over 50,000 hours (that’s around 5 and a half years) … without allowing them to miss a beat in keeping up with user feedback. These reductions in process time make AI a very attractive prospect for organizations from many different industries. 

Conclusion

It’s clear that AI is no more of a work of magic than a toaster or television. For some, that push-button style, chatbot interaction is the closest they will get to ‘using’ AI. However, for those who dream of developing new solutions and shaping the future through AI-delivered insights, the path forward is fascinatingly complex.  

If you’re ready to begin your career working with AI, say hello@ptechpartners.com or check out our job listings here. 

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