"Do you believe in magic?" Google asked attendees of its annual developer conference this May, playing the seminal Lovin' Spoonful tune as an introduction. Throughout the three-day event, company executives repeatedly answered yes while touting new features of the Google Assistant, the company's version of Alexa or Siri, that can indeed feel magical. The tool can book you a rental car, tell you what the weather is like at your mother's house, and even interpret live conversations across 26 languages. But to some of the Google employees responsible for making the Assistant work, the tagline of the conference – "Keep making magic" – obscured a more mundane reality: the technical wizardry relies on massive data sets built by subcontracted human workers earning low wages.
A two-person team from the UNICEF's Office of Innovation in New York recently joined DSTI in Sierra Leone to collaborate on a Machine Learning "Hackathon" As part of efforts to develop the technology and innovation ecosystem to support development of Sierra Leone, UNICEF is collaborating with the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) in the Office of the President, on a knowledge exchange partnership, around innovative Machine Learning techniques which, it is hoped, will add value to Government's work around data for decision making in the country. A two-person team from the UNICEF's Office of Innovation in New York recently joined DSTI in Sierra Leone to collaborate on a Machine Learning "Hackathon" to work on data from the education sector in support of the Government's Free Quality School Education initiative. Officials from different Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies joined the team to enhance their knowledge of Machine Learning and advanced data analysis techniques, for use in their own areas of government. Shane O'Connor, Technology for Development Specialist at UNICEF Sierra Leone, stated that the opportunity afforded by this collaboration is huge. "With the President's establishment of the DSTI and with UNICEF's collaboration, there really is great potential for a step change in how Technology and Innovation can be leveraged to deliver for Sierra Leone," he said.
Quivering and hesitant, like a spoon-wielding toddler trying to eat soup without spilling it, the world's first raspberry-picking robot is attempting to harvest one of the fruits. After sizing it up for an age, the robot plucks the fruit with its gripping arm and gingerly deposits it into a waiting punnet. The whole process takes about a minute for a single berry. It seems like heavy going for a robot that cost £700,000 to develop but, if all goes to plan, this is the future of fruit-picking. Each robot will be able to pick more than 25,000 raspberries a day, outpacing human workers who manage about 15,000 in an eight-hour shift, according to Fieldwork Robotics, a spinout from the University of Plymouth.
Robot bees are no replacement for our vital pollinators here on Earth. Up on the International Space Station, however, robots bearing the bee name could help spacefaring humans save precious time. On Friday, NASA astronaut Anne McClain took one of the trio of Astrobees out for a spin. Bumble and its companion Honey both arrived on the ISS a month ago, and are currently going through a series of checks. Bumble passed the first hurdle when McClain manually flew it around the Japanese Experiment Module.
Can you work out how to mine a diamond in just 4 days? That is the task artificial intelligence will be set in a new competition. The MineRL competition will kick off on 1 June and will take place inside the video game Minecraft. Entrants will have to build an AI that can successfully navigate and survive in the online game and ultimately learn the complex task of how to mine a diamond.
A start-up is deliberately trying to crash aircraft into drones to test a new collision-avoidance system. US-based Iris Automation's technology can detect, identify and react to airborne objects. The start-up says it can spot light aircraft 500 metres away, respond in a fifth of a second, and it works with the drone travelling at up to 210 kilometres per hour. Traditionally, collision avoidance systems for drones are similar to those used for other aircraft, which rely on radar, but are large and expensive.
Shareholders seeking to halt Amazon's sale of its facial recognition technology to US police forces have been defeated in two votes that sought to pressure the company into a rethink. Civil rights campaigners had said it was "perhaps the most dangerous surveillance technology ever developed". But investors rejected the proposals at the company's annual general meeting. That meant less than 50% voted for either of the measures. A breakdown of the results has yet to be disclosed.
Assigning female genders to digital assistants such as Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa is helping entrench harmful gender biases, according to a UN agency. Research released by Unesco claims that the often submissive and flirty responses offered by the systems to many queries – including outright abusive ones – reinforce ideas of women as subservient. "Because the speech of most voice assistants is female, it sends a signal that women are obliging, docile and eager-to-please helpers, available at the touch of a button or with a blunt voice command like'hey' or'OK'," the report said. "The assistant holds no power of agency beyond what the commander asks of it. It honours commands and responds to queries regardless of their tone or hostility. In many communities, this reinforces commonly held gender biases that women are subservient and tolerant of poor treatment."
Columbia University is learning how to build and train self-aware neural networks, systems that can adapt and improve by using internal simulations and knowledge of their own structures. The University of California, Irvine, is studying the dual memory architecture of the hippocampus and cortex to replay relevant memories in the background, allowing the systems to become more adaptable and predictive while retaining previous learning. Tufts University is examining an intercellular regeneration mechanism observed in lower animals such as salamanders to create flexible robots capable of adapting to changes in their environment by altering their structures and functions on the fly. SRI International is developing methods to use environmental signals and their relevant context to represent goals in a fluid way rather than as discrete tasks, enabling AI agents to adapt their behavior on the go.
Once treated by the field with skepticism (if not outright derision), the artificial neural networks that 2018 ACM A.M. Turing Award recipients Geoffrey Hinton, Yann LeCun, and Yoshua Bengio spent their careers developing are today an integral component of everything from search to content filtering. Here, the three researchers share what they find exciting, and which challenges remain. There's so much more noise now about artificial intelligence than there was when you began your careers--some of it well-informed, some not. What do you wish people would stop asking you? GEOFFREY HINTON: "Is this just a bubble?"