Is artificial intelligence defined in the same way in all fields?

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Due to its rapid increase in daily life, artificial intelligence (AI) technology has become increasingly relevant for social scientists. A team led by Penn State researchers reviewed the various social science literature and found that studies often define AI differently. By drawing from some of these areas and from computer science, the researchers created a single definition and framework that they said they hope will be consistent across disciplines.

The definition is a starting point, said lead author Homero Gil de Zoega, Distinguished Professor of Media Effects and AI at Penn State’s Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. It is intentionally broad so it can adapt as AI evolves and foster interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers.

The work discussed by Gil de Zúñiga in the Q&A below was published in the journal Political communication with co-authors Temelhen Dorutoy, a doctoral student at Bellisario College, and Manuel Guanes, assistant professor at the University Carlos III de Madrid.

How did you identify the need for a definition of artificial intelligence specifically for the social sciences?

Obviously in society today, AI is taking over. It’s not just scientific anymore. It has a humanitarian basis for all citizens. Regardless of the country you live in, AI is becoming increasingly important. For computer scientists, this has been going on for decades. But for those of us wondering how it will be integrated into everyday life, artificial intelligence is in its infancy. So, starting with computer science, we gathered different definitions from what had been written about AI. My co-authors and I found that there was no great consensus about what AI was or what it might be. We found that the definitions were not concrete and were often defined to fit the study of a particular paper.

What is the definition that emerged from your study?

Our definition says, AI is the ability of non-human machines or artificial entities to perform real-world capabilities, solve tasks, interact, communicate and act logically like biological humans.

How does your definition of AI differ from disciplines outside the social sciences?

If someone is writing a study on Alexa, they may define artificial intelligence in a certain way. For example, they might say that an AI is a machine that performs smart tasks. Or they can base it on the system’s ability to interpret external data. When it comes to journalism and communication, definitions may eschew the machine and instead describe AI as a set of algorithms designed to create and distribute media, text and images. . So, that’s why we wanted to combine all these definitions and create something that works across all sectors.

Is it the idea that interdisciplinary connections between researchers from different disciplines will be easier because they have a common appreciation for AI?

Absolutely. If I’m from communications, it’s going to work for me. We started with computer science, so if I were a computer science researcher, our definition and framework would work for me. We read more and more about AI coming from many diverse fields of inquiry. We hope this works when you are talking to anyone from these areas. And I know that our working framework is not very comprehensive, but what we wanted to facilitate was a condition to say that if you’re using this definition in your theory, this will work. This is just a premise. You can make it a lot more complicated if you want, but this is a theory that will work for everyone. The argument is that it is a launching pad or stepping stone for doing AI research.

More information:
Homero Gil de Zúñiga et al, Epistemological Definition of Artificial Intelligence (AI): Advancing AI as a Conceptual Framework in Communication Research, Political communication (2023). DOI: 10.1080/10584609.2023.2290497

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