If you are looking for an answer to the question What is Artificial Intelligence? and you only have a minute, then here's the definition the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence offers on its home page: "the scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behavior and their embodiment in machines."
However, if you are fortunate enough to have more than a minute, then please get ready to embark upon an exciting journey exploring AI (but beware, it could last a lifetime) …
Stanford University launched its Institute for Human-Centered AI on Monday. Known as Stanford HAI, the institute's charter is to develop new technologies while guiding AI's impact on the world, wrestle with ethical questions, and come up with helpful public policies. The Institute intends to raise US $1 billion to put towards this effort. The university kicked off Stanford HAI (pronounced High) with an all-day symposium that laid out some of the issues the institute aims to address while showcasing Stanford's current crop of AI researchers. The most anticipated speaker on the agenda was Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
A version of this article appears in the IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine (Volume 26, Issue 1, March 2019). In mid-November, we received the sad news that Alphabet is closing SCHAFT, a spinoff of the University of Tokyo robotics lab. The decision comes one year after Boston Dynamics was sold to SoftBank, the company that also acquired Aldebaran Robotics (known for the Pepper and Nao robots). During the 2018 IEEE/Robotics Society of Japan International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, we heard that Rethink Robotics, which created the collaborative robot industry and had a large impact on our view of robots in industrial applications, had closed its doors. Some months before, Jibo and Mayfield Robotics, makers of Kuri, were forced to shut down sales and operations.
In the past four months, airports have been brought to a standstill by the sight of drones hovering above runways. Last week, rules came into force in the UK that make it illegal to fly drones within 5 kilometres of an airport. But is there anything more we can do to stop them becoming a weaponised nuisance?
A swarm of robots inspired by living cells can squeeze through gaps and keep moving even if many of its parts fail. Living cells gather together and collectively migrate under certain conditions, such as when inflammatory cells travel through the bloodstream to a wound site to help the healing process. To mimic this, Hod Lipson at Columbia University in New York and his colleagues created 25 disc-shaped robots that can join together. Each is equipped with cogs that cause the robot's outer shell to expand and contract and magnets around its perimeter that let it stick to neighbouring bots. Individually, the bots can't move, but once stuck together, the swarm can slither across a surface by making individual bots expand and contract at different times.
The world's smallest bears copy one another's facial expressions as a means of communication. A team at the University of Portsmouth, UK, studied 22 sun bears at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Malaysia. In total, 21 matched the open-mouthed expressions of their playmates during face-to-face interactions. When they were facing each other, 13 bears made the expressions within 1 second of observing a similar expression from their playmate. "Mimicking the facial expressions of others in exact ways is one of the pillars of human communication," says Marina Davila-Ross, who was part of the team.
Medical artificial intelligence breaks a little too easily. Although AI promises to improve healthcare by quickly analysing medical scans, there is increasing evidence that it trips up on seemingly innocuous changes. Sam Finlayson at Harvard Medical School and his colleagues fooled three AIs designed for scanning medical images into misclassifying them by simply altering a few pixels. In one example, the team ever so slightly altered a picture of a mole that was first classified as benign with 99 per cent confidence. The AI then classified the altered image as malignant with 100 per cent confidence, despite the two images being indistinguishable to the human eye.
You've probably used your Amazon Echo for a variety of tasks and skills, from listening to music and playing games to finding information and controlling smart home devices. But what if you could create your own Alexa skills? You can, thanks to a feature called Alexa Blueprints. You can use templates to create your own stories and games, or concoct personalized answers to specific questions. After completing your custom skills, you have the option to limit them to just your own household so only you and your family can access them, or you can share them with the world.
A 16-inch tall robot-recruiter named Tengai could be the future of job interviews. Tengai is programmed to conduct every interview the exact same way. She doesn't engage in pre-interview chit-chat, and asks every question in the same tone and order. Tengai then sends a transcript to human employers containing only the interviewee's answers, eliminating any bias or inherited prejudices.
Three years later Daniel Kreitman still chokes up when he talks about what he saw, and how it changed him. Kreitman, an upholsterer by trade, had taken psilocybin, a hallucinogen derived from mushrooms, in a trial at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for nicotine addiction. He was 52, and he'd smoked between one and two packs a day for nearly 40 years. After his first psilocybin session, his urge to smoke was gone. During his third and final session, he had the vision that helped him quit for good. He saw lakes, roads, and mountains, and a broad-shouldered man at the helm of a ship, lassoing birds. Was it his dead father? But he remembers giggling and feeling good. Music was playing in his headphones.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the 18th-century poet and philosopher, believed life was hardwired with archetypes, or models, which instructed its development. Yet he was fascinated with how life could, at the same time, be so malleable. One day, while meditating on a leaf, the poet had what you might call a proto-evolutionary thought: Plants were never created "and then locked into the given form" but have instead been given, he later wrote, a "felicitous mobility and plasticity that allows them to grow and adapt themselves to many different conditions in many different places." A rediscovery of principles of genetic inheritance in the early 20th century showed that organisms could not learn or acquire heritable traits by interacting with their environment, but they did not yet explain how life could undergo such shapeshifting tricks--the plasticity that fascinated Goethe. A polymathic and pioneering British biologist proposed such a mechanism for how organisms could adapt to their environment, upending the early field of evolutionary biology.