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) …
IT'S a pump that could bring your heart back to life. A lack of donated hearts often means people with heart failure die waiting for a replacement. But now a robotic device has been designed to help out with pumping duties to keep diseased hearts beating for longer. Nikolay Vasilyev at Boston Children's Hospital, one of the creators of the device, hopes it may even allow a full heart recovery, rendering a transplant unnecessary. The device consists of an implanted semi-circular brace that hugs the diseased chamber, surrounding it with an inflatable sleeve.
Boston Dynamics has released footage of a humanoid robot that can do box jumps and back flips. This is a significant improvement on robot capabilities – despite what years of sci fi movies have suggested, it's actually really hard to make a bipedal robot walk, climb stairs and just generally keep its balance. That's why some of the entrants in recent humanoid robot Grand Challenges have looked less human and more like a cross between an orang-utan and a wolf spider. The new video suggests that for Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot, some of these problems have been solved. Last year, Atlas demonstrated that it can already go for a nice hike in the woods, and now it looks like it's ready for the gym too.
When you think of agricultural pests, elephants are probably near the bottom of the list. But they do an enormous amount of damage to nut and banana plantations precisely because they are too big, tough and smart to scare off once they start eating. Now, Australian researchers have developed an AI scarecrow that can do the job. It has been so successful that they are looking to adapt it to other smart pests – the long term goal is a scarecrow that understands the type of pest approaching and can tailor its scaring strategy. Scarecrow technology has a long history of ignominious failure, and not just for elephants – animals quickly learn to tune out a deterrent if it becomes apparent that there is no threat.
The future of human-AI interactions is set to get fraught. With the push to incorporate ethics into artificial intelligence systems, one basic idea must be recognised: we need to make machines that can say "no" to us. Not just in the sense of not responding to an unrecognised command, but also as the ability to recognise, in context, that an otherwise proper and usable directive from a human must be refused. That won't be easy to achieve and may be hard for some to swallow.
There are thousands of oil spills each year in US waters alone. One major source is illegal dumping of oil in harbours when ships empty their bilges, typically at night to avoid detection. However, a new kind of polarising camera can now spot offenders immediately. Its ability to detect otherwise invisible oil sheens could even lead investigators to lost planes. Like many oil imagers, the Pyxis camera sees the infrared radiation emitted by all objects.
Social stress can trigger changes in the brain that open the door to depression. Experiments in human brains and mice suggest that experiences such as bullying make the blood-brain barrier leaky, letting inflammation into the brain and altering mood. Anything that threatens your sense of worth is a type of social stress – be it bullying, body-image issues, social anxiety or extreme shyness. To see how such stresses might affect mood, Scott Russo of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and his team exposed 24 small, subordinate mice to larger, dominant mice for 10 minutes every day, for 10 days. Ten of the mice coped well with this, but 14 became socially withdrawn and more timid.
The results are in from the biggest computer face-recognition contest to date. Everyone from government agencies to police forces are looking for software to track us in airports or spot us in CCTV images. But much of this technology is developed behind closed doors – how can we know if any of it really works? To answer this question, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) and the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have been running the biggest face-recognition competition to date. The Face Recognition Prize Challenge tested two tasks: face verification and face search.
In Harry Potter's universe, people in portraits and pictures don't just sit there. They smile, gasp, wink, or get up to mischief. Facebook has been hard at work making this a reality for your profile pic as well. Their new tool only requires a single image of a face as input. From this, it is then able to create an animated version that puts on either a happy, sad, or angry expression.
THE set-up in an episode of the TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is nearly always the same. There is a body, some forensic evidence and one question: who did it? But the formula is gripping because the answer is rarely obvious. Cracking the case before the big reveal not only requires an ability to pay attention to the clues, but also to navigate plot twists and red herrings. It is even harder for a computer to solve.
NEXT week, a meeting at UN headquarters in Geneva will discuss autonomous armed robots. Unlike existing military drones, which are controlled remotely, these new machines would identify and attack targets without human intervention. Groups including the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots hope the meeting will lead to an international ban. But while fiction is littered with cautionary tales of what happens when you put guns in the cold, metallic hands of a machine, the situation may not be as simple as "human good, robots bad". To understand why, we should look at what people are saying about the ethics of driverless cars, which advocates see as a way of reducing accidents.