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Artificial intelligence is the field that has given us cognitive technologies such as computer vision, speech recognition, machine learning, and automated reasoning. These technologies seem to get more powerful every day. In recent months, for instance, we've seen significant improvements in face and image recognition, which can now outperform humans on some benchmarks, and speech recognition, with Google cutting errors by two-thirds.
Meanwhile, lots of investment is flowing to companies that are commercializing cognitive technologies. These two forces--continually improving performance and investor-fueled commercialization--are making artificial intelligence into one of the most important technology trends in decades, one that is already starting to affect the way we work and live.
As the performance of cognitive technologies improves, the number and scope of applications continue to expand. For instance, IBM found its forecasts of the availability of sunlight and wind for energy production developed using machine learning to be up to 30 percent more accurate than those created using conventional approaches. A machine learning-based analysis of brain images was shown to be 98 percent accurate in diagnosing Parkinson's disease, compared with 91 percent for conventional visual-analysis methods. In just the last few months, researchers revealed projects in which neural networks can predict phenomena as diverse as bank failures, rodent-borne disease outbreaks, and clinical responses to anti-cancer drugs.
In robotics also we've seen impressive progress in just the just the last few months, including autonomous robots able to jump over obstacles, school like fish and share knowledge, learn by trial and error to perform tasks requiring dexterity, and recover from damage by automatically learning a new method of walking. Outside of their traditional uses in manufacturing, increasingly capable robots are finding new applications in retail, hospitality, warehousing, fire safety, search and rescue, and undersea exploration.
The rapid progress in artificial intelligence technologies is making possible new classes of products, from intelligent virtual assistants to home robots, and will likely spawn entirely new industries. But the lion's share of AI-related venture capital investment - around $4.5 billion - since 2011 has gone to startup companies that are applying cognitive technologies to traditional business issues in established industries. Put aside futuristic artificial-intelligence scenarios: cognitive technologies will increasingly become integral to how all of us work.