Weird AI illustrates why algorithms still need people

These days, it can be very hard to determine where to draw the boundaries around artificial intelligence. What it can and can’t do is often not very clear, as well as where it’s future is headed.

In fact, there’s also a lot of confusion surrounding what AI really is. Marketing departments have a tendency to somehow fit AI in their messaging and rebrand old products as “AI and machine learning.” The box office is filled with movies about sentient AI systems and killer robots that plan to conquer the universe. Meanwhile, social media is filled with examples of AI systems making stupid (and sometimes offending) mistakes.

dumb ai

“If it seems like AI is everywhere, it’s partly because ‘artificial intelligence’ means lots of things, depending on whether you’re reading science fiction or selling a new app or doing academic research,” writes Janelle Shane in You Look Like a Thing and I Love You, a book about how AI works.

Shane runs the famous blog AI Weirdness, which, as the name suggests, explores the “weirdness” of AI through practical and humorous examples. In her book, Shane taps into her years-long experience and takes us through many examples that eloquently show what AI—or more specifically deep learning—is and what it isn’t, and how we can make the most out of it without running into the pitfalls.

While the book is written for the layperson, it is definitely a worthy read for people who have a technical background and even machine learning engineers who don’t know how to explain the ins and outs of their craft to less technical people.

Dumb, lazy, greedy, and unhuman

In her book, Shane does a great job of explaining how deep learning algorithms work. From stacking up layers of artificial neurons, feeding examples, backpropagating errors, using gradient descent, and finally adjusting the network’s weights, Shane takes you through the training of deep neural networks with humorous examples such as rating sandwiches and coming up with “knock-knock who’s there?” jokes.