The Robot in Your Pocket

How Artificial Intelligence Shapes the Internet

Artificial intelligence, a computer program that can react to input and not only complete tasks, but choose which tasks to prioritize, is one of the most exciting (and to some, frightening) fields of computer research. When someone says artificial intelligence, some people think of C-3PO, and others think of HAL or Skynet, but the truth is that AI is all around us and is not going away. On the internet, AI interacts with us in three primary ways; sorting, focusing, and eventually generating the user experience. These areas in some ways resemble past, present, and future. One has existed for quite some time, one is just now beginning to become popular, and one is yet to be.

How does AI sort the user’s experience? Look no further than Facebook, YouTube, or Google, some of the largest internet companies in the world. All of these use learning algorithms, a form of artificial intelligence that can alter itself based on input, to sort what information a user receives. Google uses this technology to sort search results, and to tailor them to a particular user based on past searches. YouTube uses it to suggest more videos. Facebook uses it to choose what to show in your feed. All of these functions lead back to sorting, one of the earliest widespread applications of AI technology on the internet.

The next use of AI is one that is just now coming into the marketplace. This use is focusing the user experience. You might ask what focusing really means. After all, isn’t sorting a type of focusing? Not in this case. It’s hard to live in a first world nation without having some inkling of what Alexa, Cortana, or Siri do. While a sorting algorithm gives a user the most relevant results, a focusing AI strives to provide just one result, the one most relevant. A focusing AI’s goal is to simplify the user’s searches. If you wanted to buy a particular book from Amazon, you might have to go to their website, browse the selections, and go through the purchasing process, but with the power of AI, a simple command is all that is needed.

The final big use of artificial intelligence in not yet realized. However, I believe that in the future, AI will not only sort and focus the user experience, but also generate it. Imagine a future without websites, where as you use your computer, an AI creates a home page on the fly, synthesizing your history, habits, and queries to bring you exactly what you are looking for without even navigating a site. You want a recipe, it opens it. You want to retrieve a file, it opens. No need to navigate, no need to guess. It knows where what you want is, and it gets it for you. That is the ultimate goal of internet AI: a user experience so streamlined and simple that it’s like your own mind and memory, you think and it is recalled.