Skillsoft Blog

AI: Menace Or Marvel?

AI: Menace Or Marvel?

By Kyle Gingrich

Things just heated up in the debate around artificial intelligence (AI). On Friday, Jan 19th Google CEO Sundar Pichai made this rather bold statement, “AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on. I think of it as something more profound than electricity or fire.”  He even suggested it could in the future help cure cancer. However, such optimism is not shared by all technology giants. Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, has been very vocal about his fear that robots will kill us all, while Jack Ma, founder and executive chair of Alibaba, also shares similar fears and believes “Artificial Intelligence, big data is a threat to human beings. I think AI should support human beings. Technology should always do something that enables people, not disable people.”

While you may not feel as strongly as Musk and Ma or Pichai, you may be uneasy with how AI is impacting your day-to-day life. Perhaps though a better understanding of AI might alleviate some of your concerns and give you a perspective that is somewhere between Pichai’s warm embrace and Musk’s ominous warnings.

What the future holds is anyone’s guess really, but what is often the case is that there is a lot of confusion around AI – what it stands for, what it can accomplish. The perception of AI is easily distorted, especially when people associate it to with job losses and apocalyptic robots-taking-over–the-world scenarios. So pervasive is this image for some people, that already a number of companies have begun re-tooling the AI image. IBM is re-inventing Artificial Intelligence calling it “Augmented Intelligence” and some Robotics vendors have done likewise, rebranding robots as “cobots” (collaborative robots) that work alongside, rather than replacing, humans.

But what is it really?

According to techopedia,

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. Some of the activities computers with artificial intelligence are designed for include:

  • Speech recognition
  • Learning
  • Planning
  • Problem solving

But here’s another way of looking at AI that might just make it feel a little more real to you – AI can be defined as the attempt to get real machines to behave like the ones in the movies, think Skynet, R2D2 or HAL9000.

John McCarthy, who coined the term “Artificial Intelligence” in 1956 said, “as soon as it works, no one calls it AI anymore.”

So is a picture emerging?


Good. Now just when you thought you’ve got it you, I’m afraid to tell that we then break it down even further into three categories: narrow, general and super.  We do this because as AI has evolved, so too has its capabilities and operations, meaning that we now have different levels, each meeting and fulfilling different needs and roles.


As the name suggests, narrow AI is a machine completing the task it was designed to do, and only that, and currently is the most frequent implementation of AI. In many ways, this is the one that is making our lives easier, or at least reducing labor-intensive or time-consuming tasks as it automates that which was traditionally a human task.  It is sometimes referred to as “weak AI”, but don’t let that mislead you – it is this form of AI which is considered the biggest risk to human jobs as it “..can ferret out patterns and correlations from data that would take eons for humans to find.”


AKA human-level or “strong AI”, is the one most often portrayed on film, think Data or Tron, and the one we really haven’t mastered, despite frequent promises. What we have learned is that developing a machine that can mirror the way the human brain understands and reacts to its environment, is difficult to say the least.  What general AI demonstrates is just how very little we really know about the exact workings of the human brain.


Again, as the name suggests, this is AI Marvel Universe-style; AI that is smarter than the best human minds, and could therefore possibly be the biggest threat to the human race. It’s a contentious issue and one, Google’s AI chief John Giannandrea, believes is not something we should invest too heavily in. “This leap into, ‘Somebody is going to produce a superhuman intelligence and then there’s going to be all these ethical issues’ is unwarranted and borderline irresponsible.”

So now that you know more about AI and its variations, are you threatened, excited or wanting to learn more so you can be prepared for how AI will continue to enhance your personal and professional life?

From a professional perspective, regardless of where you are in the organization, it’s highly likely that AI will influence the way you work and how you think about your work. If you hear people talking about “Digital Transformation”, AI is part of that. Skillsoft understands that shift in business thinking is escalating the need for organizations to have the right training for employees. We train organizations from the business functions with our Skillsoft’s Digital Transformation Fundamentals for the Business Courses to the IT team members with our extensive IT content library which includes our Explorer Series Courses, thereby ensuring the ability to develop, plan and execute an AI strategy can become a seamlessly orchestrated and effective initiative.

If “knowledge is power” training is the key to that power and understanding a little more about AI will create new opportunities for your organization and your learners to grow.

Kyle Gingrich is the VP of IT and Certification at Skillsoft.

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