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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an algorithm?

An algorithm is a set of rules or step-by-step instructions written by a programmer to be followed by a computer to solve a problem or perform an action. Algorithms are the basis on which computer science is based. They not only tell a computer what to do, but also how to do it.

What is machine learning?

Machine learning is what happens when a computer teaches itself something new. Companies that use artificial intelligence tools to collect data — social media corporations, for example — need ways to find patterns and reach conclusions about that data. Machine learning algorithms are used to sift through enormous quantities of data and then make decisions based on it. Netflix recommendations and Spotify playlists are generated from machine learning. The algorithms analyze your watching and listing habits and then make educated guesses about what else you might like.

What is deep learning?

When artificial intelligence imitates the human brain — the way we think and process data, they way we make decisions — it is involved in deep learning. In other words, through deep learning, we can teach machines how to teach themselves.

Will AI replace my job?

It certainly might. Automated machines have been replacing human jobs for decades. Jobs that consist of repetitive actions — inserting a particular part into a particular socket, stapling packets of paper, various manufacturing tasks — are significantly at risk of being erased by machines. According to a 2019 report from Oxford Economics, by 2030, 8.5% of the global manufacturing workforce could be replaced by machines.

Communities with largely lower-skilled and lower-educated workers are the most vulnerable to seeing severe job loss. A 2019 report from the Brooking’s Institute found that 47% of Latino or Hispanic workers were in jobs that could be partially or entirely automated, followed by American Indians at 45%, Black workers at 44%, white workers at 40%, and Asian Americans at 39%.

For some countries, this isn’t necessary a bad thing, as national safeguards and robust welfare programs can help those affected by technological unemployment find their footing. It remains to be seen how the United States will handle this drastic change.

On the other hand, AI is being used more and more widely in the world of recruiting and employment, making it easier for people to find the jobs that they are best suited for. In a perfect world, AI will create as many jobs as it displaces, but this remains to be seen.

Why does any of this matter?

Whether you are ready or not, artificial intelligence will dramatically alter your daily existence—in fact, it already has. You are already being impacted and influenced by AI. With or without your knowing, AI is at work subtly manipulating what you spend your money on, what products are marketed to you, what entertainment is available to you, and what options are available to you as a consumer.

Going into the future, AI will continue to grow and spread throughout the world. For many, how you make a living will change drastically. Your job may be altered, or even made obsolete—and this is true for both blue-collar and white-collar jobs. Even managerial positions are being replaced with AI that can perform the same kinds of “thinking” that managers do: organizational and strategic decision making.

As you’ll read elsewhere on AIandYou, artificial intelligence is still new technology that is experiencing very critical growing pains. Because AI is only as smart as its programmers, it’s not uncommon for AI to have some of the same unconscious biases and prejudices as those who are writing the code. Indeed, AI is capable of the same racism, sexism, bigotry, classism, and antisemitism that humans are capable of.

Being aware of artificial intelligence — learning about it, preparing for it, even working with it — will be crucial in the short-term future. AI can be a tool for massive good and, as it stands now, a tool for sewing deep inequality. It’s up to you to make sure it doesn’t take you by surprise.

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