Artificial Intelligence (AI) is probably the most talked about advancing technology which promises to transform whole industries in the next five years with profound implications on the world we live in.

Of course, we’ve been aware of this coming dawn and the potential impacts it could have on humanity and the world for years – even if we’re actually thinking about Terminator and the machines taking over the world!

We have been warned about by the likes of Ray Kurzweil and Elon Musk, where machines surpass humans and make them redundant. But not everybody shares that view. Here in the real world, is this currently just over-hyped buzzword for quite a mundane field of computer science?

Is current AI new?

Afiniti describes itself as the world’s leading artificial intelligence solutions provider and helps its clients use machine-learning techniques to interact with their customers. The firm’s founder, Zia Chishti, says the rush by big corporations to prove they have an AI strategy is based on fashion rather than real changes in the technology.

“Really there’s nothing here that’s tremendously groundbreaking – the same principles that were at work even 40 years ago are still at work today,” he says.

He accepts that machine learning, where computers are given vast amounts of data and learn to spot patterns in it, has advanced as processing power has leaped forward. But he seems dubious that these techniques have much to do with the kind of AI we have been warned about.

“Nobody serious thinks we’ve made any progress on those fronts,” he says. “There’s not one person in the field that has any view that we’re any closer to generalised intelligence than we were two decades ago.”

So what about Google DeepMind’s defeat of a world champion player of the ancient Chinese game of Go? He says it’s just simple “marketing” with little relevance to real world deployment of artificial intelligence. For that, computers need to acquire human characteristics such as understanding meaning and context, or even becoming conscious.

Current AI is just data crunching

Currently, the reality is that we’re talking about mass data crunching with algorithms designed to give results based on pattern spotting. For example, studies have been carried out to show when bail should or shouldn’t be granted based on algorithms designed to predict if a person is likely to re-offend. The AI is not replacing human thought, compassion or gut feeling, simply crunching historic data. And this would be a sensible use of the tech. When a judge has minutes to make up their mind, why not use the AI to decide – or at a simpler level, to guide? It would remove, or at least decrease, factors such as leniency – And shouldn’t all cases be judged to the same standard?

Kriti Sharma, who oversees artificial intelligence development for the business software firm Sage. She tells us we should not get too hung up on terminology when we talk about AI:

“Machine learning, predictive analytics, AI – in reality it’s about the problems that AI can solve for humanity. Even the smallest businesses are now finding that AI techniques can save them money and make them more productive. We’re too fixated on creating AI that is as good as humans – in reality we need something that can support and make human lives better,” she says.

So, Terminator is not coming, yet. Instead, let’s strap in and prepare for applications which help law, medicine and finance for the good of humanity, not the end of it.