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Digital thinking tools for better decision making
Digital thinking tools for better decision making

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3.2 Rise of the empiricist AIs

The success of the empiricist approaches, and especially artificial neural networks, was grounded in techniques that had been known for many decades. However, in the early 21st century, the circumstances for deploying those techniques were favourable.

  • The empiricist approach is built on data. As the internet came of age, many companies started tracking the behaviour of users. This produced lots of data. Users also generated data deliberately (e.g. on online photo sites such as Flickr which allow users to label images) and against payment (on platforms such as Amazon Mechanical Turk). Thus, a wealth of data became available to both businesses and researchers.
  • Artificial neural networks require a lot of computing power to perform large numbers of simple but simultaneous calculations. Specialist computer circuits that were initially developed for computer games and other computer graphics applications turned out to be eminently suitable for that job (Figure 12).
A close-up of a graphics processing unit.
Figure 12 A graphics processing unit (GPU) speeds up image processing and artificial neural networks