CNN  — 

Business executives keep talking about it. Teachers are struggling with what to do about it. And artists like Drake seem angry about it.

Love it or hate it, everyone is paying attention to artificial intelligence right now. Almost overnight, a new crop of AI tools has found its way into products used by billions of people, changing the way we work, shop, create and communicate with each other.

AI advocates tout the technology’s potential to supercharge our productivity, creating a new era of better jobs, better education and better treatments for diseases. AI skeptics have raised concerns about the technology’s potential to disrupt jobs, mislead people and possibly bring about the end of humanity as we know it. Confusingly, some execs in Silicon Valley seem to hold both sets of views at once.

What’s clear, however, is that AI is not going away, but it is changing very fast. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up.

What is AI?

In the public consciousness, “artificial intelligence” may conjure up images of murderous machines eager to overtake humans, and capable of doing so. But in the tech industry, it’s a broad term that refers to different tools that are trained to perform a wide range of complex tasks that might previously have required some input from an actual person.

If you use the internet, then you almost certainly use services that rely on AI to sort data, filter content and make suggestions, among other tasks.

It’s the technology that allows Netflix to recommend movies and that helps remove spam, hate speech and other inappropriate content from your social media feeds. It helps power everything from autocorrect features and Google Translate to facial recognition services, the last of which uses AI that, in Microsoft’s words, “mimics a human capability to recognize human faces.”

AI can also be successful in developing techniques for solving a wide range of real world problems, such as adjusting traffic signals in real time to manage congestion issues or helping medical professionals analyze images to make a diagnosis. AI is also central to developing self-driving cars by processing tremendous amounts of visual data so the vehicles can understand their surroundings.

So why is everyone talking about AI now?

The short answer: ChatGPT.

For years, AI has largely operated in the background of services we use every day. That changed following the November launch of ChatGPT, a viral chatbot that put the power of AI front and center.

People have already used ChatGPT, a tool created by OpenAI, to draft lawsuits, write song lyrics and create research paper abstracts so good they’ve even fooled some scientists. The tool has even passed standardized exams. And ChatGPT has sparked an intense competition among tech companies to develop and deploy similar tools.

The ChatGPT app is seen running on an iPhone in this photo illustration

Microsoft and Google have each introduced features powered by generative AI, the technology underpinning ChatGPT, into their most widely used productivity tools. Meta, Amazon and Alibaba have said they’re working on generative AI tools, too. And numerous other businesses also want in on the action.

It’s rare to see a cutting-edge technology become so ubiquitous almost overnight. Now businesses, educators and lawmakers are all racing to adapt.

How exactly does generative AI work?

Generative AI enables tools to create written work, images and even audio in response to prompts from users.

To get those responses, several Big Tech companies have developed their own large language models trained on vast amounts of online data. The scope and purpose of these data sets can vary. For example, the version of ChatGPT that went public last year was only trained on data up until 2021 (it’s now more up to date).

These models work through a method called deep learning, which learns patterns and relationships between words, so it can make predictive responses and generate relevant outputs to user prompts.

How is generative AI different from AGI?

As impressive as some generative AI services may seem, they essentially just do pattern matching. These tools can mimic the writing of others or make predictions about what words might be relevant in their responses based on all the data they’ve previously been trained on.

AGI, on the other hand, promises something more ambitious — and scary.

AGI — short for artificial general intelligence — refers to technology that can perform intelligent tasks such as learning, reasoning and adapting to new situations in the way that humans do. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has teased the possibility of a superintelligent AGI that could go on to change the world or perhaps backfire and end humanity. <