The Hidden AI Guiding our Online Experience

Artificial intelligence is commonly thought of in terms of science fiction. Generations of media have left us believing that AI must be self-aware, and we've failed at any attempts of creating such systems. In reality, real AI is much more basic, simply acting as a digital machine designed to aid in specific tasks. You might not realize it, but every time you go online, you're being guided by an enormous number of AI systems, and they're more influential than we tend to think.

The Big One

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Arguably the most direct form of AI that we use every day is Google. As a search engine, Google is ostensibly designed to help users find exactly what they're looking for, but how it operates is intricate and complicated. Like any search engine, Google operates by strict AI that determines which websites will find themselves at the top of the search results. Finding these websites isn’t just as simple as matching terms, however. Instead, Google websites placed higher on the results page if they’re more optimized, in a function called search engine optimization,or SEO. The AI that determines placement also considers a site's trustworthiness, its safety certificates, its general reputation, how many times it's been linked to, and many other factors operating beneath the surface. This makes results more accurate than they would be otherwise, in a cat and mouse game to stay ahead of those who would manipulate Google's AI for nefarious means.

Making Media Better

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Believe it or not, practically every piece of media you see online would have run through AI to aid in processing efficiency. This is a standard part of compression, where special algorithms work to keep data costs low with a minimal or non-existent drop in quality. JPEG image files are a common example of this effect, where typical images exist in the 50-500kb range. Uncompressed image files, such as what TIFFs can be, can easily be more than ten times larger. Apply this same concept to video files, and the effect can become even more pronounced, allowing devices like external hard drives to store much more than they could otherwise.

Safety and Security Tech

Lesser-known but arguably more important are the benefits that AI has given to security systems. Specifically, newer AI solutions have made great strides in addressing vulnerabilities revealed by outside AI threats. These threats occur because hackers using AI are more able to probe potential points of ingress, far exceeding the capacity of traditional hacking methods. This has necessitated an unprecedented strength of cyber security systems, such as FIDO2-based Passwordless Authentication tools. This new authentication standard utilizes biometric ID and advanced protocols to eliminate the need for older password systems, which takes many AI-driven hacker avenues with it. On a more invisible scale is the effect that AI has had on direct attacks towards digital infrastructure. Most commonly this is illustrated by intrusions that attempt to brute-force a user's password by entering thousands of guesses in a short time to cover all possibilities. With AI, these attacks are easily recognized and cut off at the source, ensuring accounts remain secure.

Even if we never realize it, AI is the helping hand that guides us through an increasingly complicated digital landscape. It helps us search, it protects us, and it keeps file sizes manageable in the age of data bloat. While it might not be the robot buddy many of us grew up dreaming of, the contributions these systems make to our regular lives can’t be understated. So, if you’re ever afraid of an eventual AI uprising, be sure to give thanks every now and then.

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