Smart machines at work: A.I. gets a job

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Second -- and third, and fourth -- opinions concerning cancer treatment. Analysis of the impact of social media publicity campaigns within minutes of an event. Analysis of the finances of a doctor's office written entirely by a machine.

These are a few examples of the new world of smart machines -- the latest generation of artificial intelligence (A.I.) configured to perform real-world tasks. The power of these machines is such that some pundits are predicting that they will contribute to displacement of workers and economic disruption. Those with hands-on knowledge, however, say these machines are still a long way from true human cognition.

Long road

"People have been trying to make smart machines for well over 60 years," notes Elliot Turner, head of AlchemyAPI, which sells an A.I. machine learning platform. "They started with neural networking, then developed expert systems, and then machine learning with shallow [manually crafted] learning. Those approaches underlie a lot of fraud prevention algorithms today. But the mid-2000s saw a revolution called 'deep learning.' They took neural networks and stacked them in a way that let computers learn very complicated representations of data."

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