It wasn't so long ago that  artificial intelligence was reserved to the realm of science fiction according to the public. Skip ahead to 1997 and IBM's Deep Blue brought real artificial intelligence into the public eye when it bested Chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 2 matches(though losing the series 4-2). Fast-forward to last year and AI has beat the masters in virtually every game you can think of, including Go(which is both older and more difficult than Chess). From mastering games to contemplating the meaning of life, AI has made major strides in recent years.

A fully developed, self-teaching AI unit is no longer a dream, it has transitioned into an inevitability with the only real question being "who will get their first?" There have been so many artificial intelligence breakthroughs in recent years, it can be difficult to imagine what's next.

So, in the hopes of shedding some light on that subject, here's a list of 5 AI trends to watch in 2018: 

Natural language will replace specific commands

One of the major challenges that has constantly plagued both AI and the world of computing in general is natural language use. If you've ever had to use a voice-activated telephone system or tried to write a computer program, you know what I'm talking about. Computers accept instructions using a very specific set of commands and subtleties like tone or "figures of speech" are completely lost on them.

As the use of chatbots in customer service and other business applications becomes more prevalent, the ability to recognize the little nuances of human speech is becoming increasingly important. Google has been leading the march towards AI that is indistinguishable from a human being in conversation. Two years ago their chatbot was able to have a meaningful debate over the meaning of life. In another decade or two, the keyboard may be facing obsoletion as more and more of our devices gain the ability to simply ask us what we're trying to do.

Emotion recognition will deeply enhance the bot/human relationship

Sarcasm, wordplay, and similar nuances aside, the other major challenge facing AI is the ability to recognize human emotion. A chatbot that can recognize when a person is getting frustrated and adjust its tactics accordingly will go a long way towards improving customer relations. The potential of such a breakthrough goes well beyond the business world though.

For the past decade mental health providers have been striving to develop a chatbot that can act as a counsellor. - one with no emotional bias that remembers every detail of every interaction you've ever had with them. That work culminated in 2014 with the founding of X2AI and the launch of a psychotherapy chatbot named Karim. Karim has already been used to treat patients who suffer from PTSD amongst other things. A fully developed counselor-bot would go a long way towards reducing the cost-barrier that prevents so many sufferers of mental illness from receiving treatment.  

AI will bring big data analytics to the masses

Alongside AI, big data has been one of the most overhyped (and least understood) terms of the past few years. While the business potential that lies in big data analytics is enormous, the challenge of properly analyzing that data and drawing relevant conclusions is just as big. As AI and machine learning techniques develop, it will completely revolutionize the way we interact with big data.

The debate on ethics will only get more heated

As AI progresses and is entrusted with more important tasks, the question of liability is weighing heavily on the minds of everyone in the industry. If an artificial intelligence unit commits a crime, who is responsible? Is it the company who purchased the unit, the business(or person) that developed it, or most interestingly, will the unit itself be held responsible? Let's take a moment to focus on that last option.

If an AI bot is deemed responsible for its own crime, how do you punish it? Most people will immediately conclude, destroy it, simple. But, if an AI unit is so advanced that it can be held accountable and punished for its actions, is it not so advanced that it deserves some basic rights? Businesses in the US and many other countries are recognized as their own legal entity with a complete list of rights and responsibilities. By that logic, it would seem that at some point AI bots will need the same regulations put in place.

While we're still many years away from a bot that could be legally recognized as a person, the debate is happening right now and will continue until we decide exactly what will qualify a bot as a person.

The hype will start to die down

If you've spent much time reading about AI over the past few years, I wouldn't blame you for feeling like bots will either take over the world or solve all of our problems in the next decade. All menial jobs are going to disappear and the human race will devolve into a scene from Wall-E. However, the truth is far less exciting.

While it's true that there have been major developments in AI over the past decade, the industry still is very much in its infancy. I'm not saying that bots won't replace more jobs and I'm not even denying they could one day "rule the world." However, the chances either of robots taking over or solving all the world's problems in our lifetime are laughably slim. As we get used to interacting with AI and develop a better understanding of it, the hype will begin to fade and the conversation will move to real problems like liability, instead of hysterical nonsense like robots taking over.