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This Fun AI Tutorial Highlights the Limits of Deep Learning

Sure, neural networks can easily classify images—but they still don’t really understand what they see without human intervention. That much is made plain in Google’s new AI tutorial, called Teachable Machine, which was brought to our attention by the Verge. You can watch it in action in the video above, or try it out for yourself. It’s fun to play with: you train an AI to classify images by showing it objects via your webcam, which it then associates with a GIF or sound that it plays on demand when shown those objects again.

But that sentence pretty much says it all: the kind of deep neural network that’s being used to power this simple example—and, arguably, most machine learning that's currently in use around the world—is, essentially, performing advanced pattern recognition, but little else. Beyond identifying, say, your waving hand, and differentiating it from a view of your wall, the AI has no clue about what it’s seeing, unless it’s provided with huge quantities of labeled data. And it certainly can't abstract further, to work out the kinds of deeper meaning you might associate with a seemingly inanimate object being held in front of a web cam.

For a deeper dive into the limitations of deep learning, read our recent article, “Is AI Riding a One-Trick Pony?