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The notion of extremely advanced artificial intelligence (AI) has been with us for several decades, and it has been a perpetual theme of science-fiction in particular. But as technology develops at the beginning of the 21st century, the notion of truly intelligent machines and computers is rapidly becoming a reality.

In the latter months of 2014 and early weeks of this year, it has become apparent that multiple AI start-ups are appearing in Silicon Valley. Of course, given the reputation that this area has for being involved with the cutting edge of technology, there have been a fair few fads pass through this southern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area which haven't amounted to much. But the obvious commercial value which the concept could have if it was realised to a significant level means that this trend probably will be a lasting one.

Artificial Intelligence Start-Ups

According to Stephen Purpura, the founder of one such AI company which has raised more than $44 million over the last two years or so, more than 170 start-ups related to artificial intelligence have appeared in recent years. The reason for this is quite simple according to Purpura; the technology involved in artificial intelligence has begun to catch up with our expectations of it. According to the pioneers of this technology, the future will bring opportunities for humans to interact with machines in ways that would be unimaginable to the average person, and for that matter for machines to increasingly enter the world of human beings in hitherto unpredicted ways.

Already innovators in the field are talking of a paradigms shift in artificial intelligence technology, whereby machines are now no longer responding to commands entered into them, but actually able to watch human beings and learn from them. Of course, this still happens on an extremely limited basis, and is very much task-oriented; there is no such thing as true intelligence from a machine as of yet. But it is clear that big developments have been made in a short space of time, and the process continues to evolve as the best Silicon Valley minds invest vast amounts of time on this subject matter.

But foremost in the new processes and techniques utilised in artificial intelligence is so-called machine learning. This technology involves training machines to identify patterns and make predictions by crunching vast amounts of data. As such, brute force calculation remains a major part of machine intelligence, as opposed to the sort of intuitiveness that human beings tend to associate with intellect. This has been a feature of computer chess programs, which must calculate trillions of moves to compete with the best human players. But breakthroughs are still being made which will have a very significant impact on our collective future.

Such jargon as artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning and networks may become part of everyday lingo in the near future. Particularly as machines are beginning to reach the stage where they may be able to tackle problems which were previously believed to be solvable only by human beings. The implication of this is that machines would be more intelligent than people, or at least of comparable intelligence, but this is to some degree a misnomer. Computers remain extremely strong specialists, but at this point in time there is no immediate prospect of a machine developing generalised intellect.

Big Data Correlation

But artificial intelligence could have as big an impact on business and commerce as another recent and important trend - Big Data. There are similarities between the two; artificial intelligence should not be seen as a single technology, but rather an approach with wider applications and implications.

Techniques which are being developed today such as deep learning could eventually help businesses make smarter inferences, and even have deeper fundamental understandings, about their customers. As this form of artificial intelligence develops, it is predicted by experts in the field that it will be possible for companies to identify customer preferences and make accurate predictions. This will enable businesses to identify purchasing patterns, and put their finger on when customers would most like to be contacted, for example.

The commercial value of such information is quite obvious in any field, and has deep learning develops it is possible that the notion of what we consider to be possible today may expand still further. Although start-ups are flocking to the field in an attempt to develop this technology, the biggest advances in AI are also being driven by huge corporations such as Google, IBM and Facebook; all of which have invested very heavily in the field of artificial intelligence.

Existing Systems

Thus, we have already seen a Google test that identified cats from YouTube videos, a Facebook system called Deep Face that recognises pictures of people, and IBM’s question-answering system that goes by the name of Watson. As big players invest more money in artificial intelligence, it is inevitable that even more sophisticated and impressive systems will emerge.

Although there have been big advancements in AI technology, it is still some distance from really playing a major role in commerce. But the issue is something that travel companies should pay close attention to, as the connected and digital future which the travel industry will be fundamentally involved in could benefit more from effective artificial intelligence than most areas of commerce.

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