By Sandy K. Johnson

If you book a ride with Uber, stream music on your iPhone, or ask Amazon’s Alexa to play classical music, you’re using artificial intelligence.

AI, already woven into the fabric of our everyday lives, is entering a new phase, driven by the rise of big data and extraordinary computer power. It has prompted a global competition to find ways to develop and monetize artificial intelligence.

In its simplest definition, artificial intelligence is a system that produces behavior that would be called intelligent in a human being, according to Matthew Hutson, a freelance reporter who covers AI for Science magazine and other publications. Put another way, computer science creates systems that are analogous to human intelligence, says Daniel Castro, director of the Center for Data Innovation.

There are broadly two types of AI. Rule-based AI is programmed with rules for making decision (“if this happens, do that”). Machine-learning AI builds its own complex rules based on experience.

AI can be faster and more precise than humans at pattern-matching, which makes it a good tool in many areas. But AI lacks our common sense, creativity, and strategic thought. Using health care as an example, AI could quickly identify a tumor and what kind of tumor – but a physician is needed to understand and recommend treatment options.

How will the workforce be affected by AI? “Nearly every job,” will change Hutson said. He suggested envisioning the workforce in four quadrants: Cognitive and manual, routine and non-routine. AI is already taking over routine cognitive jobs (data mining, scheduling meetings), routine manual jobs (such as manufacturing) and some non-routine cognitive jobs (like design or human resources). Manual non-routine jobs, such as waiters or nurses, will be the last to go.

Castro portrayed AI as a productivity opportunity. Whatever parts of your job can be automated will free up time for more productive and creative tasks – and more leisure time. In turn, this will create other jobs.

Those who are AI-savvy – such as computer programmers, robotics engineers and data scientists – are in high demand. Indeed.com, the career website, notes a 4.5-fold increase in the share of jobs requiring AI skills over the past five years.

Across the globe, AI is an extremely competitive field. Castro and Hutson agreed that the United States is still a couple years ahead of China. But they pointed out the U.S. doesn’t have a national strategy on AI, while China, Germany, Japan and other nations do. Without one, federal funding is dispersed across agencies, as is oversight.

Is the future now? Not quite, perhaps not in our lifetimes. “We still have so far to go. We tend to be over-optimistic about technology,” Castro said. Hutson added that artificial general intelligence is “deceivingly far off.”