Glossary: AI and Computing

What is deep learning? Quantum computing? Key terms demystified.

By Caitlin Dawson

The term artificial intelligence was coined in the 1950s by John McCarthy, professor emeritus at Stanford University. We’ve come a long way since then, with some forms of AI now ubiquitous in daily life, ranging from apps providing traffic conditions, shopping recommendations and weather predictions to social media algorithms and face ID.

But although most of us have heard of AI, few of us know what it really means. That’s because AI can encompass everything from Apple’s Siri to humanoid robots that seem like they’re straight out of Hollywood sci-fi movies. Like “big data,” AI is an umbrella term for things like machine learning, deep learning and natural language processing. While most experts agree that it’s difficult to define these terms succinctly, this glossary can serve as a starting point for further exploration.


A set of well-defined instructions and rules that a computer must do to complete a task or solve a particular problem.

Artificial Intelligence

The simulation of human intelligence by machines to create smart computer systems that solve complex problems.

Data Science 

The study of extracting meaningful knowledge or insights from large quantities of complex data.

“My analysis predicts we are 99.8% compatible. Will you marry me?”

Big Data

Massive, complex data sets that are impossible for organizations to manage with conventional data processing tools, such as SQL databases.

Sonny soon realized the bucket wasn’t going to cut it. 

Deep Learning

A more mathematically complex evolution of machine learning that teaches computers to learn by example using artificial neural networks modeled on the human brain.

Machine Learning

A subfield of artificial intelligence that allows computers to learn from data by identifying patterns with minimal human intervention.

Natural Language Processing

A branch of AI that helps computers understand, interpret and manipulate human language in much the same way human beings do.

Marvin is writing his first novel exploring the existential ennui of machines.

Quantum Computing

A computer that harnesses the laws of quantum mechanics to perform certain calculations very quickly and solve problems too complex for classical computers.

Schrödinger’s cat wanted both the good news and the bad news first.

Strong AI

A theoretical form of AI that aims to replicate human intellectual abilities, such as reasoning, planning and problem-solving.

“The pain reminds me that I am alive.”

Weak (or Narrow) AI

AI that is limited to a specific area or task — for example, Siri, Alexa and Google Search.