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What is Narrow AI?

Narrow AI refers to artificial intelligence systems that are designed to perform specific tasks and operate under limited constraints.
Jun 2023  · 7 min read

Narrow AI, also known as Weak AI, refers to artificial intelligence systems that are designed to perform a specific task and operate under a limited set of constraints.

Narrow AI Explained

Narrow AI performs specific tasks, such as voice recognition or image analysis. It's the most common type of AI that we encounter in our daily lives. Examples include the voice assistants on our phones like Siri and Google Assistant, recommendation algorithms used by Netflix and Amazon, and the AI that powers autonomous vehicles.

Narrow AI is designed to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, but it operates under a limited set of constraints and is task-specific. It doesn't possess understanding or consciousness, but rather, it follows pre-programmed rules or learns patterns from data. For example, a Narrow AI designed for image recognition can identify objects in images because it has been trained on a dataset of images with labeled objects, not because it understands what an object is.

The term "Narrow AI" is used to differentiate this type of AI from Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), also known as Strong AI. AGI refers to a type of AI that has the ability to understand, learn, and apply knowledge across a wide range of tasks, much like a human. In contrast, Narrow AI is designed for specific tasks and lacks the ability to perform tasks outside of its designed scope.

Narrow AI is used because it can perform specific tasks more efficiently and accurately than humans. It can work 24/7 without breaks, doesn't require a salary, and can process large amounts of data quickly. It's particularly useful for tasks that are repetitive, time-consuming, or dangerous for humans.

Examples of Real-World Narrow AI Applications

Narrow AI finds its application in many domains, for example:

  • Voice assistants. Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant are examples of Narrow AI designed to understand and respond to voice commands, perform tasks like setting alarms, making phone calls, and answering questions.
  • Recommendation systems. The recommendation algorithms used by platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and Spotify are examples of Narrow AI. They analyze user behavior and preferences to recommend movies, products, or songs.
  • Email filtering. Email services like Gmail use Narrow AI to filter out spam emails and categorize incoming emails into different folders.
  • Weather forecasting. Predicting temperature, precipitation, and other conditions based on climate data

What are the Benefits of Narrow AI?

Narrow AI offers several advantages:

  • Efficiency. Narrow AI systems can perform specific tasks more efficiently and accurately than humans, reducing the time and effort required to complete these tasks.
  • Availability. Unlike humans. Narrow AI systems can work 24/7 without breaks, providing constant service. They can also be easily scaled up or down to match the demand for a particular task.
  • Reduction of human error. By automating tasks, Narrow AI can help reduce the chances of human error.
  • Improved safety. In certain industries, such as manufacturing or transportation, Narrow AI can help improve safety by taking over dangerous or repetitive tasks that could put human workers at risk.

What are the Limitations of Narrow AI?

Despite its benefits, Narrow AI does have its limitations:

  • Lack of flexibility. Narrow AI systems are designed for specific tasks and cannot perform tasks outside their designed scope. One example of this issue can be seen in speech recognition systems. These systems are designed to recognize and transcribe human speech, but they can struggle with accents or dialects that are outside of their designed scope. For example, a speech recognition system designed for American English may struggle to accurately transcribe a Scottish accent, leading to errors in transcription.
  • Dependency on data. The performance of Narrow AI systems is heavily dependent on the quality and quantity of the data they are trained on. For example, in the domain of facial recognition, if the AI system is trained on a dataset that is not diverse enough, it may struggle to accurately recognize faces of individuals from certain races or ethnicities. This can lead to biased or inaccurate results, which can have serious consequences in areas such as law enforcement and security.
  • Lack of understanding. Narrow AI systems do not truly understand the tasks they perform. They simply follow pre-programmed instructions or patterns they have learned from data. In the field of medical diagnosis, AI systems may be trained on large datasets of medical images and may be able to accurately identify certain patterns or abnormalities. However, they may not truly understand the underlying biological mechanisms or clinical context behind these patterns, which could lead to misdiagnosis or inappropriate treatment recommendations. This highlights the importance of ensuring that AI systems are developed and tested in collaboration with medical experts who can provide the necessary context and interpret the results.

The Future of Narrow AI and its Risks

Narrow AI is everywhere: in our phones, cars, and workplace. We have become reliant on it as it makes our lives easier. Moreover, narrow AI continues to improve, bringing us to the threshold of artificial general intelligence.

I develop a Narrow AI application almost every week for my blogs and research purposes. The tabular classification model is the most well-known Narrow AI model. Additionally, I have worked on time series forecasting, clustering, computer vision, Natural Language Processing, and speech recognition models. If you want to learn more about Classification in Machine Learning, you can gain hands-on experience building a Narrow AI model.

Large language models such as GPT-3.5 Turbo and GPT-4, which comprehend human context more proficiently, have transformed our work environments. Corporations are now integrating these technologies into the workplace, making employees more efficient.

While Narrow AI has potential benefits, there are also substantial risks relating to bias, lack of model explainability, reliability, safety, and job impacts. Comprehensive risk assessments and responsible AI practices will be key to mitigating these dangers as narrow AI continues to permeate our lives and workplaces.

These Narrow AI models are now transitioning into multimodality systems that can understand and process multiple inputs. It helps address their fundamental limitations and makes them more intelligent and valuable. Learn about multimodal technologies by reading The Latest On OpenAI, Google AI, and What it Means For Data Science.

Want to learn more about AI and machine learning? Check out the following resources:


What's the difference between Narrow and Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)?

While Narrow AI is designed to perform specific tasks, AGI refers to AI systems that possess the ability to understand, learn, and apply knowledge across a wide range of tasks, much like a human.

Can Narrow AI become AGI?

Currently, no. While Narrow AI has seen significant advancements, the development of AGI, an AI with broad cognitive capabilities similar to a human, remains a complex challenge and a topic of ongoing research.

What are some examples of Narrow AI?

Narrow AI is everywhere in our everyday lives. Examples include voice assistants like Siri and Alexa, recommendation systems used by Netflix and Amazon, and email filtering systems used by Gmail.

Photo of Abid Ali Awan
Abid Ali Awan

I am a certified data scientist who enjoys building machine learning applications and writing blogs on data science. I am currently focusing on content creation, editing, and working with large language models.


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