Definitions of AI uses
Descriptions for each technology use case
The following definitions were provided to survey respondents:
Facial recognition technologies are AI technologies that can compare and match human faces from digital images or videos against those stored elsewhere.
The technology works by first being trained on many images, learning to pick out distinctive details about people’s faces.
These details, such as distance between the eyes or shape of the chin, are converted into a face-print, similar to a fingerprint.
One use of facial recognition technology is for unlocking mobile phones and other personal devices.
Such devices use this technology by scanning the face of the person attempting to unlock the phone through the camera, then comparing it against a saved face-print of the phone’s owner.
Another use of facial recognition technology is in policing and surveillance.
Some police forces in Britain and elsewhere use this technology to compare video footage from CCTV cameras against face databases of people of interest, such as criminal suspects, missing persons, victims of crime or possible witnesses.
Another use of facial recognition technology is to assist with border control.
‘eGates’ at many international airports use facial recognition technologies to attempt to automatically verify travellers’ identities by comparing the image on their passport with an image of their face taken by a camera at the gate.
If the technology verifies the person’s identity, the eGate will open and let them through, otherwise they will be sent to a human border control officer.
Some organisations use AI technologies to help them decide whether someone is eligible for the programmes or services they offer.
These AI technologies draw on data from previous eligibility decisions to assess the eligibility of a new applicant.
The recommendations of the technology are then used by the organisation to make the decision.
AI technologies that assess eligibility are sometimes used to determine a person’s eligibility for welfare benefits, such as Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Disability Living Allowance.
Here, AI technologies are trained on lots of data about previous applicants for similar benefits, such as their employment history and disability status, learning patterns about which features are associated with particular decisions.
Many applications will only be considered for the benefit once the computer has marked them as eligible.
One use of AI technologies for assessing eligibility is for reviewing people’s job applications. The technology will look at a person’s job application or CV and automatically determine if they are eligible for a job.
Here, AI technologies are trained on lots of data from decisions about previous applicants for similar roles, learning patterns about which features are associated with particular hiring outcomes.
Many employers who use this technology will only read the applications that the computer has marked as an eligible match for the role.
AI technologies may be used by organisations to predict the risk of something happening.
When predicting the risk, these AI technologies draw on a wide range of data about the outcomes of many people to calculate the risk for an individual.
The recommendations these technologies make are then used by organisations to make decisions.
One use of AI technologies for calculating risk is for assessing a medical scan to identify a person’s risk of developing some types of cancer.
Here, AI technologies are trained on many scans from past patients, learning patterns about which features are associated with particular diagnoses and health outcomes.
The technology can then give a doctor a prediction of the likelihood that a new patient will develop a particular cancer based on their scan.
One use of AI technologies for calculating risk is to assess how likely a person is to repay a loan, including a mortgage.
Here, AI technologies are trained on data about how well past customers have kept up with repayments, learning which characteristics make them likely or unlikely to repay.
When a new customer applies for a loan, the technology will assess a range of information about that person and compare it to the information it has been trained on. It will then make a prediction to the bank about how likely the new customer will be able to repay the loan.
Targeted online advertising
Targeted advertising on the internet tailors adverts to a specific user. These kinds of ads are commonly found on social media, online news sites, and video and music streaming platforms.
The technology uses lots of data generated by tracking people’s activities online to learn about people’s characteristics, attitudes and interests.
The technology then uses this data to generate adverts tailored to each user.
Targeted adverts on social media are sometimes used by companies to suggest consumer products such as clothes, gadgets and food.
These ads are targeted at people according to their personal characteristics and previous behaviour on social media. They are intended to encourage people to buy particular products.
Targeted adverts on social media are sometimes used by political parties to suggest political content to users.
These ads are targeted at people according to their personal characteristics and previous behaviour on social media. They are intended to encourage people to support a specific political party.
Virtual assistant technologies
Virtual assistant technologies are devices or software that are designed to assist people with tasks like finding information online or helping to arrange appointments. The technologies can often respond to voice or text commands from a human.
The technologies work by being ‘trained’ on lots of information about how people communicate through language, learning to match certain words and phrases to actions that they have been designed to carry out.
One example of a virtual assistant technology is a smart speaker.
These technologies are small computers that are connected to the internet and which can respond to voice commands to do things such as, turn appliances in the home on and off, answer questions about any topic, set reminders, or play music.
One example of a virtual assistant is for assessing information about a person’s health.
These AI technologies aim to respond to healthcare queries online, including about appointments or current symptoms.
The technologies are able to automatically suggest a possible diagnosis or advise treatment. For more serious illnesses, the technologies may suggest a person seeks further medical advice, for example by booking a GP appointment or by going to hospital.
Robotic technologies are computer-assisted machines which can interact with the physical world automatically, sometimes without the need for a human operator.
These technologies use large amounts of data generated by machines, humans and sensors in the physical world to ‘learn to’ carry out tasks that would previously have been carried out by humans.
One example of robotic technologies are robotic vacuum cleaners, sometimes called a ‘smart’ vacuum cleaner.
This is a vacuum cleaner that can clean floors independently, without any human involvement.
Robotic vacuum cleaners use sensors and motors to automatically move around a room while being able to detect obstacles, stairs and walls.
One example of robotic technologies are robotic care assistants. These technologies are being developed to help carry out physical tasks in care settings such as hospitals and nursing homes.
Robotic care assistants are designed to support specific tasks, such as helping patients with mobility issues to get in and out of bed, to pick up objects, or with personal tasks such as washing and dressing.
When these technologies are used, a human care assistant will be on-call if needed.
Another use of robotic technologies is for driverless cars. These are vehicles that are designed to travel on roads with other cars, lorries and vans, but which drive themselves automatically without needing a human driver.
Driverless cars can detect obstacles, pedestrians, other drivers and road layouts by assessing their physical surroundings using sensors and comparing this information to large amounts of data about different driving environments.
Another use of robotic technologies is for autonomous weapon systems used by the military.
These include missile systems, drones and submarines that, once launched, can automatically identify, select or attack targets without further human intervention.
These technologies decide when to act by assessing their physical surroundings using sensors and comparing this information to large amounts of data about different combat environments.
Advancing knowledge through simulations
New computer technologies are being developed to advance human knowledge about the past and the future.
These technologies work by taking large amounts of data that we already have, and using this to create realistic simulations about how things were in the past, or how they might be in the future.
These ‘simulation technologies’ aim to allow people to study and learn about places and events that would otherwise be impossible or difficult to directly experience.
One example of using new simulation technologies for advancing knowledge is for research about climate change.
New simulation technologies can analyse large amounts of past data in order to simulate the future impacts of climate change in particular areas. This data could come from weather and environmental data, pollution data, and data on energy usage from individual homes.
For example, these technologies can help scientists and governments to predict the likelihood of a significant flood occurring in a particular region over the next 10 years, along with how the flood may impact agriculture and health.
One example of using new simulation technologies for advancing knowledge is the development of virtual reality for education.
Here, a person can wear a virtual reality headset at home or school that will show them a three-dimensional simulation of a museum or historical site, using a range of data about the museum or historical site.
These technologies are designed to allow people to learn more about history or culture through games, videos and other immersive experiences.