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) …
Traffic congestion costs the U.S. economy 121 billion a year, mostly due to lost productivity, and produces about 25 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions, Carnegie Mellon University professor of robotics Stephen Smith told the audience at a White House Frontiers Conference last week. In urban areas, drivers spend 40 percent of their time idling in traffic, he added. The next step is to have traffic signals talk to cars. Pittsburgh is the test bed for Uber's self-driving cars, and Smith's work on AI-enhanced traffic signals that talk with self-driving cars is paving the way for the ultimately fluid and efficient autonomous intersections.
But cars more fully integrated into the so-called internet of things -- everyday devices able both to send and receive data -- could become more of a seamless piece of the daily digital fabric of people's lives. Even now, Amazon's voice-activated home assistant, Alexa, can order up an Uber ride or find out how much gas is in a car's tank while the driver is still in the house. BMW announced this month that its Connected services would enable Alexa owners to lock the car doors and check car battery levels from the comfort of their sofas. Ford Motor plans to introduce Alexa integration into vehicles, including the Escape and Fusion, before the end of this year, said James A. Buczkowski, who oversees advanced engineering at Ford. "Your spouse could add things to the shopping list, which your car would alert you to," Mr. Buczkowski said.
Hurricane Matthew's record rains were but the first of many obstacles faced by millions of evacuees in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas this past week. Roads were blocked by chest-high floodwaters and downed trees. Gas stations ran out of fuel. And traffic sat backed up for miles along interstate highways as floodwaters overtook what appeared to be tens of thousands of households. Most did make it to safety, thanks to evacuation orders, well-planned emergency procedures, and traffic managers switching up lanes to move a glut of vehicles (contraflow for the win).
Seven in 10 Australians trust autonomous vehicles to take over when they feel tired, bored, or physically and mentally incapable of driving manually, according to a study by the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI). More than 5,000 Australians aged 18 and over were surveyed by ADVI and its academic partners, including the University of New South Wales, through an 80-question survey designed to help guide research, marketing, and vehicle design efforts. According to ADVI's preliminary findings, 69 percent of survey respondents said they would rather a driverless car take the lead when driving was "boring or monotonous", and 60 percent said they would prefer an autonomous vehicle during traffic congestion. Participants said the most likely activity they would spend their time doing in driverless cars was observing scenery at 78 percent, followed by interacting with passengers on 76 percent, resting came in at 52 percent, and doing work-related activities polled at 36 percent. Almost half, 47 percent, of Australians surveyed felt self-driving vehicles would be safer than human drivers.
A new study from Germany's Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) found that the autopilot feature of the Tesla Model S constitutes a "considerable traffic hazard," according to a report in Der Spiegel. Unsurprisingly, Tesla CEO Elon Musk doesn't agree and today said in a tweet that those reports were "not actually based on science," and repeated that "Autopilot is safer than manually driven cars." Tesla reports that its vehicles drove more than 130 million miles with Autopilot engaged before one was involved in a fatal crash. Statistically, that beats the safety record for manually driven cars which are involved in a fatal crash every 100 million miles in the U.S., according to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It's worth noting that Der Spiegel reports that the study was an internal one, and did not represent a final evaluation.
Global automakers Toyota, BMW and insurer Allianz will license technology from Silicon Valley start-up Nauto, which uses cameras and artificial intelligence systems in cars to understand driver behavior, Nauto said on Friday. Nauto Chief Executive Stefan Heck told Reuters the carmakers and insurer will integrate the technology into their test vehicles and use the aggregate and anonymized data - whether on driving habits, difficult intersections, or traffic congestion - to help develop their autonomous vehicle strategies. The investment by BMWi Ventures, Allianz Ventures and the Toyota Research Institute underscores the auto industry's demand for smart systems to improve vehicle and driver safety, reduce liability and make fleet operations more efficient, while preparing for self-driving cars of the future. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the parties will each have an equity stake in Nauto. A third unnamed automaker also invested, Nauto said.
Self-driving cars without steering wheels or pedals might have gotten a little bit closer to reality late last week. On Friday, the California Department of Motor Vehicles released a revised draft of regulations that could give more flexibility to autonomous car manufacturers than they have today. The proposed regulations allow testing driverless cars that pass a federal safety inspection, even with no driver in the car. At the moment, states with self-driving car regulation normally require the presence of drivers. In California, 15 companies have permits to test vehicles as long as there is a licensed driver along for the ride, according to Reuters.
California transportation authorities made two major changes in their policy on autonomous vehicles. The state, which is already relatively progressive with its laws for self-driving automobiles, continues to be a leader in adopting policies that give companies testing driverless cars more latitude. The first change, a new bill signed into law on Sept. 29, gives the Contra Costa Transportation Authority permission to test a pilot project on public roads without having a driver behind the wheel. Prior to this, the state only allowed public road testing if a human driver was in the driver's seat and "capable of taking immediate manual control of the vehicle in the event of an autonomous technology failure or other emergency." The bill requires the autonomous vehicles to be insured for 5 million, for the self-driving automobiles to not exceed 35 miles per hour on the road, and for testing data to be shared with the government and while placing geographic restrictions.
This article was published in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the US criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletter, or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook, or Twitter. If African-American motorists--or drivers of any color--deplore being pulled over for a broken taillight only to be socked with more serious charges, they can take heart that the practice should disappear within the next 20 years. Not that racial harmony will be achieved or that a new polymer will make taillights indestructible. Rather, it's that human beings won't be doing the driving.
Americans want to stay in control of their cars, a new study finds. According to a study by Kelley Blue Book, 80 percent of Americans say people should always have the option to drive themselves. This study comes just a week after the Department of Transportation released regulatory guidelines for self-driving vehicles. And it comes comes as car companies are spending billions to advance the technology. But despite the push toward autonomous cars, consumers remain unconvinced.