What is the AI effect and why should you care?

Since there is so much talk about AI now, I think it is good for people to be familiar with some key ideas concerning AI. One of these is the AI effect. The cool AI you are using now, be it ChatGPT or DALL-E or something else, will eventually get incorporated into some commonplace piece of IT and you won’t even think much of it. You certainly won’t be reading about it everywhere. If anything you and I will complain about it, much like we complain about autocorrect.

So what is the AI Effect? As Wikipedia explains:

The AI effect” is that line of thinking, the tendency to redefine AI to mean: “AI is anything that has not been done yet.” This is the common public misperception, that as soon as AI successfully solves a problem, that solution method is no longer within the domain of AI. Geist credits John McCarthy giving this phenomenon its name, the “AI effect”.

McCorduck calls it an “odd paradox” that “practical AI successes, computational programs that actually achieved intelligent behavior, were soon assimilated into whatever application domain they were found to be useful in, and became silent partners alongside other problem-solving approaches, which left AI researchers to deal only with the ‘failures’, the tough nuts that couldn’t yet be cracked.”[5]

It’s true. Many things over the years that were once thought of as AI are now considered simply software or hardware, if we even think of them at all.  Whether it is winning at chess, recognizing your voice, or recognizing text in an images, these things are commonplace now, but were lofty goals for AI researchers once.

The AI effect is a key idea to keep in mind when people are hyping any new AI as the thing that will change everything. If the new AI becomes useful, we will likely stop thinking it is AI.

For more on the topic, see: AI effect – Wikipedia


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