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This page looks at what AI actually is, and also the features that an AI can perform once programmed correctly.

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be defined as using technology that enables a computer to simulate the capacity for abstract, creative, deductive thought – or “human” thinking and behavioural processes. AI is usually pre-programmed, but this does not limit or inhibit its ability to learn and take in information from its surrounding environment – AI can make decisions and responses based on what it has learned or sensed. The intended purpose for AI was to create machines that can think like humans; already machines are improving their ability to 'learn' from mistakes and change how they approach a task the next time they try it. Some researchers are going one step further and even trying to teach AI about feelings and emotions.

AI research and development work can be broken down into two branches: applied, specialised AI, and generalised AI. Applied specialised AI used principles of simulating human thought to carry out specific tasks, such as diagnosing disease in patients or predicting faults in manufacturing equipment before they occur. Generalised AI seeks to develop intelligent machines that can complete any task, much like a person. This area is less developed than specialised AI, since it requires a more complete understanding of the human brain than we currently have, and more computing power than is commonly available to researchers (but quantum computing will change all this).

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