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What's the fuss about AI? Discovery Channel doc explains all

This is AI airs on Thursday.

"Jeopardy!" & IBM Man V. Machine Press Conference
YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, NY - JANUARY 13: Contestant Ken Jennings competes against 'Watson' at a press conference to discuss the upcoming Man V. Machine "Jeopardy!" competition at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center on January 13, 2011 in Yorktown Heights, New York.
Ben Hider / Getty Images

Artificial Intelligence has a bad rap from intelligent folk like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk. But a new Discovery Channel documentary airing today attempts to find out how AI is already helping people. 

From driverless cars to innovations in health care and education, the two-hour documentary special highlights some of the developments and questions in artificial intelligence. It's a neat introduction to the subject explained by experts in the field and illustrated by examples from the real world.

"Most people don't know very much about AI and what they do know comes largely from more alarmist stories," says Charlie Foley, creator and producer of the TV special. Instead of "dystopian Chicken Littles or Cassandras, prophesying doom", Foley wanted to uncover "the real story of AI".

Foley quotes American computer scientist Alan Kay, who says "the best way to predict the future is to invent it". Ultimately, Foley believes there won't be any field of industry -- or life in general -- that AI won't touch. 

Backed by IBM, the documentary includes several of the company's AI advances including Watson, the AI that won game show Jeopardy, and Debater, an AI that can debate intellectuals on a given subject in real time. We also see Google-backed project DeepMind, which created the AlphaGo programme to beat world champions at the board game Go.

Now playing: Watch this: IBM's new AI can debate you

Several of the experts in the film note that we're still at an early stage in inventing the future. Foley sees a great deal of thought going into the development of AI, not least in the continued conversation between government and technologists.

The show also tackles fears and concerns about the growth of artificial intelligence, from anxiety about robots stealing jobs to the Hollywood horror of homicidal machines. 

"Invariably there will be difficulties," Foley admits, leading to "a great deal of course corrections." But having investigated the subject, he feels positive about the potential for AI.

"We are the architects of it," he says of this AI-powered future. "It's being made by people and I think there is that opportunity to reflect the better part of our natures other than the worst."

This is AI premieres Thursday at 9PM ET/PT on Discovery Channel and on Science Channel on Friday at 9PM ET/PT.

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