Weak AI

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Weak AI (also known as narrow AI)[1][2][3] is non-sentient artificial intelligence that is focused on one narrow task. Weak AI is defined in contrast to either strong AI (a machine with consciousness, sentience and mind) or artificial general intelligence (a machine with the ability to apply intelligence to any problem, rather than just one specific problem). All currently existing systems considered artificial intelligence of any sort are weak AI at most.

Siri is a good example of narrow intelligence. Siri operates within a limited pre-defined range, there is no genuine intelligence, no self-awareness, no life despite being a sophisticated example of weak AI. In Forbes (2011), Ted Greenwald wrote: "The iPhone/Siri marriage represents the arrival of hybrid AI, combining several narrow AI techniques plus access to massive data in the cloud."[4] AI researcher Ben Goertzel, on his blog in 2010, stated Siri was "VERY narrow and brittle" evidenced by annoying results if you ask questions outside the limits of the application.[5]

Some commentators think weak AI could be dangerous. In 2013 George Dvorsky stated via io9: "Narrow AI could knock out our electric grid, damage nuclear power plants, cause a global-scale economic collapse, misdirect autonomous vehicles and robots..."[6] The Stanford Center for Internet and Society, in the following quote, contrasts strong AI with weak AI regarding the growth of narrow AI presenting "real issues."

Weak or "narrow" AI, in contrast, is a present-day reality. Software controls many facets of daily life and, in some cases, this control presents real issues. One example is the May 2010 "flash crash" that caused a temporary but enormous dip in the market.[7]

— Ryan Calo, Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School, 30th August 2011.

The following two excerpts from Singularity Hub summarise weak-narrow AI:

When you call the bank and talk to an automated voice you are probably talking to an AI…just a very annoying one. Our world is full of these limited AI programs which we classify as “weak” or “narrow” or “applied”. These programs are far from the sentient, love-seeking, angst-ridden artificial intelligences we see in science fiction, but that’s temporary. All these narrow AIs are like the amino acids in the primordial ooze of the Earth.[8]

We’re slowly building a library of narrow AI talents that are becoming more impressive. Speech recognition and processing allows computers to convert sounds to text with greater accuracy. Google is using AI to caption millions of videos on YouTube. Likewise, computer vision is improving so that programs like Vitamin d Video can recognize objects, classify them, and understand how they move. Narrow AI isn’t just getting better at processing its environment it’s also understanding the difference between what a human says and what a human wants.[8]

— Aaron Saenz, Singularity Hub, 10th Aug 2010.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ io9.com mentions narrow AI. Published 1 April 2013, retrieved 16 February 2014: http://io9.com/how-much-longer-before-our-first-ai-catastrophe-464043243
  2. ^ AI researcher Ben Goertzel explains why he became interested in AGI instead of narrow AI. Published 18 Oct 2013. Retrieved 16 February 2014. http://intelligence.org/2013/10/18/ben-goertzel/
  3. ^ TechCrunch discusses AI App building regarding Narrow AI. Published 16 Oct 2015, retrieved 17 Oct 2015. http://techcrunch.com/2015/10/15/machine-learning-its-the-hard-problems-that-are-valuable/
  4. ^ Retrieved 16 February 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/tedgreenwald/2011/10/13/how-smart-machines-like-iphone-4s-are-quietly-changing-your-industry/
  5. ^ Ben Goertzel blog-post retrieved 16 February 2014. Published 6 February 2010. http://multiverseaccordingtoben.blogspot.com/2010/02/siri-new-iphone-personal-assistant-some.html
  6. ^ Retrieved 16 February 2014. http://io9.com/how-much-longer-before-our-first-ai-catastrophe-464043243
  7. ^ Retrieved 16 February 2014. http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blog/2011/08/sorcerers-apprentice-or-why-weak-ai-interesting-enough
  8. ^ a b Published 10th Aug 2010. Retrieved 16 February 2014. https://singularityhub.com/2010/08/10/we-live-in-a-jungle-of-artificial-intelligence-that-will-spawn-sentience/