Politicians worldwide are stealing one of the US government's best ideas by drawing up ambitious plans to make the most of advances in artificial intelligence. These AI manifestos, penned in Paris, Beijing, and elsewhere, follow the example of the Obama administration, which released a report on the technology toward the end of its tenure. This report did not include funding, but it made it clear that AI should be a key focus of government strategy. The Trump administration has abandoned this vision and has no intention of devising its own AI plan, say those working there. They say there is no need for an AI moonshot, and that minimizing government interference is the best way to make sure the technology flourishes.
A couple of years ago, Zipline created a national drone delivery system to ship blood and drugs to remote medical centers in Rwanda. Now it has developed what it claims is the world's swiftest commercial delivery drone, with a top speed of 128 kilometers an hour (a hair shy of 80 miles per hour). Zipline is hoping its new fixed-wing aerial robot, which is both speedier and easier to maintain than its predecessor, will help it win business in an industry that's attracted plenty of big players. They include Amazon, which has been testing its Prime Air drone delivery service for years in the UK and elsewhere, and Project Wing, part of Alphabet's secretive X lab, which is using its drones to deliver pharmaceuticals and burritos in a pilot project in Australia. Soon these and other companies will be able to experiment more in America, too.
Ready for a world in which a $50 DNA test can predict your odds of earning a PhD or forecast which toddler gets into a selective preschool? Robert Plomin, a behavioral geneticist, says that's exactly what's coming. For decades genetic researchers have sought the hereditary factors behind intelligence, with little luck. But now gene studies have finally gotten big enough--and hence powerful enough--to zero in on genetic differences linked to IQ. A year ago, no gene had ever been tied to performance on an IQ test.
Alphabet's X, the secretive lab charged with finding radical "moonshot" solutions to some of the world's biggest problems, is exploring ways in which AI could dramatically improve food production. Astro Teller, the head of X, revealed the plan at MIT Technology Review's annual EmTech Digital event in San Francisco. Teller declined to give specific examples, saying X's team hadn't yet zeroed in on particular approaches, but he hinted that it was looking at how machine learning could be combined with advances in areas like drones and robotics to advance farming practices. To be worthy of X's attention, a project must fulfill three criteria: it has to potentially solve a problem that affects millions or billions of people; it has to involve an audacious, sci-fi-sounding technology; and there has to be at least a glimmer of hope it's achievable within five to 10 years. AI-driven agriculture seems a perfect fit.
It might not look that special, but the robot above is, according to a new measure, the most dexterous one ever created. Among other tricks, it could sort through your junk drawer with unrivaled speed and skill. The key to its dexterity is not in its mechanical grippers but in its brain. The robot uses software called Dex-Net to determine how to pick up even odd-looking objects with incredible efficiency. The new robot was built by Ken Goldberg, a professor at UC Berkeley, and one of his graduate students, Jeff Mahler.
For years, Swami Sivasubramanian's wife has wanted to get a look at the bears that come out of the woods on summer nights to plunder the trash cans at their suburban Seattle home. So over the Christmas break, Sivasubramanian, the head of Amazon's AI division, began rigging up a system to let her do just that. So far he has designed a computer model that can train itself to identify bears--and ignore raccoons, dogs, and late-night joggers. He did it using an Amazon cloud service called SageMaker, a machine-learning product designed for app developers who know nothing about machine learning. Next, he'll install Amazon's new DeepLens wireless video camera on his garage.
On a recent day at a hospital in western Beijing, a cancer radiologist named Chongchong Wu loaded a suspicious-looking lung scan into a computer program resembling Photoshop. A neural network trained on thousands of example scans highlighted nodules in red squares, which she examined carefully. She corrected two false positives where the network mistakenly identified blood vessels as potential malignancies. But she also found a nodule that she'd previously overlooked, perhaps indicating an early sign of disease. China is embarking on a big initiative to add AI to health care with tools like this one.
When David Graham wakes up in the morning, the flat white box that's Velcroed to the wall of his room in Robbie's Place, an assisted living facility in Marlborough, Massachusetts, begins recording his every movement. It knows when he gets out of bed, gets dressed, walks to his window, or goes to the bathroom. It can tell if he's sleeping or has fallen. It does this by using low-power wireless signals to map his gait speed, sleep patterns, location, and even breathing pattern. All that information gets uploaded to the cloud, where machine-learning algorithms find patterns in the thousands of movements he makes every day.
China isn't just investing heavily in AI--its experts aim to set the global standards for the technology as well. Academics, industry researchers, and government experts gathered in Beijing last November to discuss AI policy issues. The resulting document, published in Chinese recently, shows that the country's experts are thinking in detail about the technology's potential impact. Together with the Chinese government's strategic plan for AI, it also suggests that China plans to play a role in setting technical standards for AI going forward. Chinese companies would be required to adhere to these standards, and as the technology spreads globally, this could help China influence the technology's course.