Hey friend, so what’s the deal with capitalizing AI?
You may have noticed that some people write “Artificial Intelligence” while others write “artificial intelligence.” You’re probably wondering, which one is correct? Should AI be capitalized or not? Great question!
This debate has been going on for a while in the world of tech and linguistics. Artificial intelligence (there, I just used the lowercase version) is becoming so commonplace that it’s understandable there’s confusion around how to write it. You’ve probably engaged with AI in some form just by talking to Siri or Alexa!
In this article, I’ll walk you through the arguments on both sides of whether to capitalize AI or not. I know, I know – it may seem like a mundane grammar debate. But it brings up some fascinating issues around language conventions and how we integrate new technical terms.
Stick with me! By the end, you’ll be an expert on the nuances of capitalizing artificial intelligence.
First, what exactly is artificial intelligence?
Before we dive into the capitalization debate, it helps to level-set on what artificial intelligence even is. AI refers to computer systems that can perform tasks that typically require human intelligence and perception. This includes activities like speech recognition, visual perception, and language translation.
The field of AI research got started back in the 1950s, but it’s only in recent years that AI has become advanced enough to go mainstream. You can find AI just about everywhere today – from virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa to recommendation engines that suggest products and content.
Some major branches of AI include:
- Machine learning – algorithms that can learn and improve without explicit programming
- Natural language processing – understanding and generating human language
- Computer vision – algorithms that can identify and process visual inputs like images and videos
- Robotics – machines capable of moving and taking action in the physical world
Current AI systems are considered “narrow” AI, meaning they can only perform specific, narrowly defined tasks. The long-term goal is to develop “general” AI that can reason, plan, and act more like a human. But we’re still a long way off from that!
Alright, now that you know what this mysterious thing called “AI” refers to, let’s look at the debate around writing it as “Artificial Intelligence” or just “artificial intelligence.”
The case for capitalizing Artificial Intelligence
Some style guides and professionals argue that “Artificial Intelligence” should be capitalized because it refers specifically to a distinct academic discipline and field of study.
The Associated Press Stylebook recommends capitalizing “Artificial Intelligence” because they consider it a proper noun – the name describing the specific concept and branch of computer science.
Similarly, the Chicago Manual of Style advises capitalizing recognized fields of study like “Artificial Intelligence” and “Political Science.” Other proper nouns like company and product names are also capitalized.
Those in favor of capitalizing AI point out its parallels to related technical fields that are always capitalized, like “Organic Chemistry,” “Civil Engineering,” and “Computer Programming.” Since AI is its own niche area of research and study, with university courses and degrees dedicated to it, proponents believe it deserves the same treatment.
The case against capitalizing artificial intelligence
On the other side of the debate, some style guides and writers argue that “artificial intelligence” should not be capitalized because it’s a common noun phrase, not a proper noun.
The Modern Language Association’s style manual states that common nouns and noun phrases should not be capitalized, even when they refer to specific concepts. For example, “pop music” and “science fiction” are not capitalized since they describe general categories rather than unique entities.
Similarly, the American Psychological Association advises capitalizing proper nouns but not common nouns – so under APA style, “artificial intelligence” would remain lowercase.
Those against capitalizing AI say it should be treated like other lowercased terms describing technologies, such as “software engineering,” “data science,” or “computer programming.” Since it describes a general field rather than a specific system, product or organization, they argue it should not be capitalized.
What are the current trends and consensus?
Given the valid points on both sides of the debate, what is the current consensus on whether to capitalize AI or not?
Reviewing the usage across publications, media outlets, and tech blogs, the prevailing trend seems to be towards lowercase “artificial intelligence” rather than title-case “Artificial Intelligence.”
Most mainstream publications like the New York Times, Washington Post, Forbes, and Wired tend to lowercase AI, treating it as a common noun. This aligns with popular grammar and linguistics resources like the AP Stylebook and MLA Handbook.
However, there are still outliers who go against the grain and capitalize AI, including the Associated Press itself. So there does not appear to be universal consensus just yet.
When polling AI experts and linguists, some justify lowercase AI because language conventions always evolve alongside tech innovations. For instance, early adopters tended to capitalize terms like “television” and “internet” before they became commonplace and lowercased. AI may follow a similar path as it becomes more mainstream.
Others argue AI requires precise terminology, given its complex technical nature. Capitalizing it distinguishes AI as a proper name for a specific discipline, avoiding confusion with the general concept of “intelligence.”
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The pros and cons of capitalizing AI
Given there are reasonable arguments on both sides, what are some of the key pros and cons of capitalizing AI versus not capitalizing it?
Pros of capitalizing AI:
- Distinguishes AI as a proper name for a distinct technical field
- Aligns with similar technical disciplines like physics and computer science
- Avoids confusion between AI and general intelligence
- Recognizes AI’s growing status and prevalence
Cons of capitalizing AI:
- Goes against conventional grammar rules for common nouns
- Can appear ostentatious or overly technical
- Inconsistent with style guides like MLA and APA
- Could become outdated as AI becomes more ubiquitous
Pros of not capitalizing AI:
- Follows conventional grammar guidance for common nouns
- Aligns with widespread current usage and publications
- Allows language conventions to evolve naturally alongside the technology
- Avoids potential pretentiousness of capitalization
Cons of not capitalizing AI:
- Causes ambiguity between AI and general intelligence
- Doesn’t recognize AI as its own technical discipline
- Loses nuance by lumping in with broad terms like “software”
As you can see, there are good-faith reasons for capitalizing or not capitalizing AI. Like many language debates, there are merits on both sides of the arguments.
Parting thoughts on this complex capitalization conundrum
Phew, that was quite the deep dive into whether artificial intelligence should be capitalized! As we’ve seen, there are no hard and fast answers, which is often the case with language conventions.
The consensus appears headed towards uncapitalized AI for now. But history shows language continues to evolve. AI may eventually become ubiquitous enough to warrant capitalization, similar to how we now write “Internet” instead of “internet.”
For now, my advice would be:
- If following a particular style guide like AP or MLA, defer to their recommendations
- Otherwise, consider your audience and consistency – pick one convention and stick with it
- Don’t worry too much about getting it “right” – language is flexible and ever-changing!
The most important thing is clear and effective communication. Whether you capitalize it or not, we can all appreciate the fascinating capabilities of artificial intelligence. And we still have so much to discover about AI in the years ahead!
Thanks for sticking with me on this lingo adventure. Let me know if you have any other language or grammar mysteries you want explained!