This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.

Most people associate artificial intelligence with robots as an inseparable pair. In fact, the term “artificial intelligence” is rarely used in research labs. Terminology specific to certain kinds of AI and other smart technologies are more relevant. Whenever I’m asked the question “Is this robot operated by AI?”, I hesitate to answer—wondering whether it would be appropriate to call the algorithms we develop “artificial intelligence.”

First used by scientists such as John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky in the 1950s, and frequently appearing in sci-fi novels or films for decades, AI is now being used in smartphone virtual assistants and autonomous vehicle algorithms. Both historically and today, AI can mean many different things—which can cause confusion.

However, people…

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