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Artificial intelligence is a concept that has been floating in the ether. Until now, the new technology’s uses have been something of a mystery, offering behind-the-scenes enhancements that are not immediately evident.

There is no doubt these applications, including intelligent search on Google and Facebook’s News Feed algorithms, have improved our interface with computers, but users would be forgiven for not having noticed them.

This began to change towards the end of 2016, which will be remembered as a breakthrough year for AI. The world watched as Google’s DeepMind beat Go world champion Lee Sedol with its AlphaGo robot, and machines learned to lip-read, transcribe and diagnose diseases with greater accuracy than humans.

And, most importantly, it was the year that gave us the first inkling of how AI will change our daily routines dramatically, with intelligent computers becoming an integral part of our lives.

The launch of Amazon’s Echo, an AI-powered speaker that responds to voice commands, marked one of the technology’s first forays into social use. “Alexa, how long will it take me to get to work today?” has already become a common interaction in my house in the morning as I dash around getting ready.

Intelligent assistants will face strong competition in 2017, with Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook all expected to have their own versions released. Google, whose first own-brand phone includes the new technology, is predicted to release the voice-activated home speaker early in the New Year. Microsoft will continue to add to Cortana’s abilities, while Apple’s AirPods enable us to call on Siri as we walk down the street.

As well as interacting with us through voice, AI will also pop up as a robot – a “chat bot” – you can message in apps such as Facebook’s Messenger and Google’s Allo. It will also help you by scanning messages and apps to schedule meetings, prioritise to-do lists and offer you information you’ll need ahead of time, such as travel instructions.

These advancements will work in tandem with a growth in AI for businesses, with law firms, security companies and marketing agencies outfitting themselves with intelligent computers. This includes computer security software that can fight cyber attacks automatically, conduct legal research and analyse a patient’s symptoms, all without human input.

With these developments – and more – in the pipeline, the AI industry is set to grow 300 per cent in 2017. If 2016 will be remembered as a breakthrough year, what will 2017 mark?

It could be when AI comes of age: the power behind everything from intelligent toasters that know when we would like breakfast to machines that can pinpoint disease with more accuracy than doctors.

2017 will see big breakthroughs in science, from the first human head transplant to new cancer research