San Francisco CNN Business  — 

In 2010, artificial intelligence was more likely to pop up in dystopian science-fiction movies than in everyday life. And it certainly wasn’t something people worried might take over their jobs in the near future.

A lot has changed since then. AI is now used for everything from helping you take better smartphone photos and analyzing your personality in job interviews to letting you buy a sandwich without paying a cashier. It’s also becoming increasingly common — and controversial — when used for surveillance, such as facial-recognition software, and for spreading misinformation, as with deepfake videos that purport to show a person doing or saying something they didn’t.

How did AI come to invade so many different parts of our lives over the last decade? The answer lies in technological advancements in the field, combined with cheaper, easier access to more powerful computers.

Much of the AI you encounter on a regular basis uses a technique known as machine learning, which is when a computer teaches itself by poring over data. More specifically, major developments over the last decade focused on a type of machine learning, called deep learning, that’s modeled after the way neurons work in the brain. With deep learning, a computer might be tasked with looking at thousands of videos of cats, for instance, to learn to identify what a cat looks like (and, in fact, it was a big deal when Google figured out how to do this reliably in 2012).

“Ten years ago, deep learning was not on anybody’s radar, and now it’s in everything,” said Pedro Domingos, a computer science professor at the University of Washington.

AI is still quite simplistic. A machine-learning algorithm, for instance, typically does just one thing and often requires mountains of data to learn how to do it well. A lot of work in the field of AI focuses on making machine learning systems better at generalizing and learning from fewer examples, Domingos said.

“We’ve come a thousand miles, but there’s a million miles still to go,” he said.

With a nod to those thousand miles already in the technological rear-view mirror, CNN Business took a look back at the last 10 years of AI’s journey, highlighting six of the many ways it has impacted our lives.


These days, artificial intelligence is all over smartphones, from facial-recognition software for unlocking the handset to popular apps like Google Maps. Increasingly, companies like Apple and Google are trying to run AI directly on handsets (with chips specifically meant to help with AI-driven capabilities), so activities like speech recognition can be performed on the phone rather than on a remote computer — the kind of thing that can make it even faster to do things like translate words from one language to another and preserve data privacy.

General view of the Apple IPhone XR during the Covent Garden re-opening and iPhone XR launch at Apple store, Covent Garden on October 26, 2018 in London, England.

One deceptively simple-sounding example of this popped up in October, when Google introduced a transcription app called Recorder. It can record and transcribe, in real time. It knows what you’re saying and identifies various sounds like music and applause; the recordings can later be searched by individual words. The app can run entirely on Google Pixel smartphones. Google said this was difficult to accomplish because it requires several pieces of AI that must work without killing the phone’s battery life or taking up too much of its main processor. If consumers take a shine to the app, it could lead to yet more AI being squeezed onto our smartphones.

Social networks

When Facebook began in 2004, it focused on connecting people. These days, it’s fixated on doing so with artificial intelligence. It’s become so core to the company’s products that a year ago, Facebook’s chief AI scientist, Yann LeCun, told CNN Business that without deep learning the social network would be “dust.”

Facebook phone app - stock

After years of investment, deep learning now underpins everything from the posts and ads you see on the site to the ways your friends can be automatically tagged in photos. It can even help remove content like hate speech from the social network. It’s still got a long way to go, though, particularly when it comes to spotting violence or hate speech online, which is tricky for machines to figure out.

And Facebook isn’t the only one; it’s simply the biggest. Instagram, Twitter, and other social networks rely heavily on AI, too.

Virtual assistants

Any time you talk to Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, or Google’s Assistant, you’re having an up-close-and-personal interaction with AI. This is most notable in the ways these helpers understand what you’re saying and (hopefully) respond with what you want.

The rise of these virtual assistants began in 2011, when Apple released Siri on the iPhone. Google followed with Google Now in 2012 (a newer version, Google Assistant, came out in 2016).

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