The Difference Between AI, Machine Learning And Digital Assistants

The world is changing at an ever-increasing pace. Technology is at the forefront of this change and most agree that the tip of the spear is artificial intelligence (AI) and the various forms it is taking. In a similar vein, machine learning and digital assistants such as Siri, Alexa, or the interactive chat that many websites are beginning to feature to help users have some overlap with AI but there are some stark differences that need to be specified. 

What is Artificial Intelligence? 

Merriam-Webster defines AI as a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers. The University of Washington released a free short course on the history of AI that shows AI has been around since the 1950s led by Alan Turing with his paper titled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” 

Later, the term Artificial Intelligence was first coined by John McCarthy in 1956. Turing’s legacy continues to this day with the coveted Turing Test that is considered the gold standard in AI development and is the method of inquiry in artificial intelligence (AI) for determining whether or not a computer is capable of thinking like a human being. 

The Importance of Machine Learning

SAS, a leader in the data analytics industry, defines Machine Learning (ML) as “a branch of artificial intelligence based on the idea that systems can learn from data, identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention.” This creates the distinction between AI and ML stemming primarily from AI having direct human intervention/interactions whereas ML generally does not.

ML is primarily used in:

  • Self-driving cars
  • Online recommendations on websites (Netflix, Amazon, etc.)
  • Automation

The Rise of Digital Assistants 

Digital assistants are computer programs designed to assist users by answering [simple] questions and performing basic tasks such as setting alarms, reminders, telling the weather forecast, or who the author of a book is. 

Digital assistants such as Siri, Alexa, Amazon Echo, etc. have taken a hit to their status as users are learning that their data is not as safe as they might have thought. Recently, Google has come under fire after a study was released by Computer Science professor Douglas Schmidt of Vanderbilt University that looked at “passive” data-collection done by Google often without the user’s knowledge.”

Most digital assistants operate with the use of a “wake word” such as “Alexa,” “Computer,” “Echo,” “Ok Google,” “Hey Cortana,” and “Hey Siri” depending on the digital assistant in question. After the wake word is spoken, then a question or command can be stated.

It is easy to confuse these three distinct and growing technologies in an increasingly dynamic world. It is best to remember that AI is the broad umbrella term and technologies like ML and digital assistants fall under it. 

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