Types of AI: distinguishing between weak, strong, and super AI

By now, you’re probably pretty familiar with the term ‘artificial intelligence’.

You likely already know that AI is a computer’s ability to ‘think’ and act intelligently.

You might already understand terms like machine learning and natural language processing.

But what about distinguishing between the different types of AI? Weak, strong, super, narrow, wide, ANI, AGI, ASI — there are seemingly a lot of labels for types of AI.

So, even if you know what AI is and what it does, determining which type you’re talking about isn’t so clear.

For all the labels, there are only three main types of AI: weak AI, strong AI, and super AI.

Here’s how to tell them apart.

Weak AI

Weak AI is both the most limited and the most common of the three types of AI. It’s also known as narrow AI or artificial narrow intelligence (ANI).

Weak AI refers to any AI tool that focuses on doing one task really well. That is, it has a narrow scope in terms of what it can do. The idea behind weak AI isn’t to mimic or replicate human intelligence. Rather, it’s to simulate human behaviour.

Weak AI is nowhere near matching human intelligence, and it isn’t trying to.

A common misconception about weak AI is that it’s barely intelligent at all — more like artificial stupidity than AI. But even the smartest seeming AI of today are only weak AI.

In reality, then, narrow or weak AI is more like an intelligent specialist. It’s highly intelligent at completing the specific tasks it’s programmed to do.

Strong AI

The next of the types of AI is strong AI, which is also known as general AI or artificial general intelligence (AGI). Strong AI refers to AI that exhibits human-level intelligence. So, it can understand, think, and act the same way a human might in any given situation.

In theory, then, anything a human can do, a strong AI can do too.

We don’t yet have strong AI in the world; it exists only in theory.

For a start, Moravec’s paradox has us struggling to replicate the basic human functions like sight or movement. (Though image and facial recognition AI is starting to learn to ‘see’ and categorise.)

Add to this that currently, AI is only capable of the few things we program into it, and it’s clear that strong AI is a long way off. It’s thought that to achieve true strong AI, we would need to make our machines conscious. 

Super AI

But if strong AI already mimics human intelligence and ability, what’s left for the last of the types of AI?

Super AI is AI that surpasses human intelligence and ability. It’s also known as artificial superintelligence (ASI) or superintelligence. It’s the best at everything — maths, science, medicine, hobbies, you name it. Even the brightest human minds cannot come close to the abilities of super AI.

Of the types of AI, super AI is the one most people mean when they talk about robots taking over the world.

Or about AI overthrowing or enslaving humans. (Or most other science fiction AI tropes.)

But rest assured, super AI is purely speculative at this point. That is, it’s not likely to exist for an exceedingly long time (if at all).

Types of AI

Distinguishing between types of AI means looking at what the technology can do. If it’s good at specific actions only, it’s narrow or weak AI. If it operates at the same level as a human in any situation, it’s strong AI. And, if it’s operating far above the capacity any human could hope for, it’s artificial superintelligence.

So far, we’ve only achieved the first of the three types of AI — weak AI. As research continues, it’s reasonable to strive for strong AI.

Super AI, meanwhile, will likely remain the stuff of science fiction for a long while yet.

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