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) …
For a species that's conquered Earth and traveled through space and invented the Slapchop, we humans sure are insecure when it comes to technology. Our greatest fear: the singularity, when the abilities of AI and robots surpass those of humans, growing so advanced that civilization is forced to reboot as humanity spirals into existential dread. Or worse, the machines turn us into batteries, à la The Matrix. As fun as that all sounds, UC Berkeley roboticist Ken Goldberg thinks the singularity is bunk. "I think it's counterproductive," he says.
Microsoft and Chinese retailer Alibaba independently announced that they had made software that matched or outperformed humans on a reading-comprehension test devised at Stanford. Microsoft called it a "major milestone." Media coverage amplified the claims, with Newsweek estimating "millions of jobs at risk." Those jobs seem safe for a while. Closer examination of the tech giants' claims suggests their software hasn't yet drawn level with humans, even within the narrow confines of the test used.
That's because two of the most important exhibitions, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, happen every January. These are the shows where automakers fight for the attention of the media and the public, where they show us the cars we'll be driving, or driven by, as the future comes to pass. At CES 2018, the emphasis was still electrification, with flashy EV launches from the likes of Byton and Fisker. There was also a doubling down on autonomous driving technology. Companies are now getting confident about demonstrating their self-driving cars, including some without any human controls.
The American criminal justice system couldn't get much less fair. Across the country, some 1.5 million people are locked up in state and federal prisons. More than 600,000 people, the vast majority of whom have yet to be convicted of a crime, sit behind bars in local jails. Black people make up 40 percent of those incarcerated, despite accounting for just 13 percent of the US population. With the size and cost of jails and prisons rising--not to mention the inherent injustice of the system--cities and states across the country have been lured by tech tools that promise to predict whether someone might commit a crime.
As I sit down in Nissan's simulator, I prepare myself for the fact that a cohort of researchers could scrutinize my skills as a wheelman with more rigor than the most aggravating backseat driver. And, I accept that this process involves wearing what looks like a too-small, sideways bicycle helmet, which holds 11 electrodes poking through my hair. "For each corner, there'll be an evaluation of your driving smoothness," says Lucian Gheorghe, the Nissan researcher in charge of this rig. Gheorghe is interested in motor related potentials, a specific pattern of activity the brain creates as it prepares to move a limb. It takes half a second for the body to translate that signal to the wave of an arm or kick of a leg, and Nissan wants to exploit the gap.
Book a night at LAX's Residence Inn and you may be fortunate enough to meet an employee named Wally. His gig is relatively pedestrian--bring you room service, navigate around the hotel's clientele in the lobby and halls--but Wally's life is far more difficult than it seems. If you put a tray out in front of your door, for instance, he can't get to you. If a cart is blocking the hall, he can't push it out of the way. But fortunately for Wally, whenever he gets into a spot of trouble, he can call out for help.
The engineer at the heart of the upcoming Waymo vs Uber trial is facing dramatic new allegations of commercial wrongdoing, this time from a former nanny. Erika Wong, who says she cared for Anthony Levandowski's two children from December 2016 to June 2017, filed a lawsuit in California this month accusing him of breaking a long list of employment laws. The complaint alleges the failure to pay wages, labor and health code violations, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other things. Yet in this unusual 81-page complaint, Wong also claims knowledge of a large swath of Levandowski's personal and business dealings. She does so in great detail, including dozens of overheard names, the license-plate numbers of cars she observed at a Levandowski property, and an extensive list of the BDSM gear she claims he kept in his bedroom.
You have instant communication, on-demand entertainment, and dial-up transportation--why should you have to wait nine months to see what kind of baby you're going to have? Now there's an app for that. In a modern-day reboot of Lindsay Bluth's "Mommy What Will I Look Like" business venture, Denver-based startup HumanCode has introduced BabyGlimpse. It's a $259 test that uses DNA from each member of a couple to predict how their future child might look and act--from skin, hair, and eye color to preferred kinds of snacks. "We've coined it sunshine science," HumanCode co-founder Jennifer Lescallet told the Balitmore Sun last month.
For the most part, digital technology is all about dumping things that move. Complex engines are giving way to simpler computer-controlled electric motors. Mirrorless cameras no longer have to flip mirrors out of the way to take photos, the way DSLR's do. In the burgeoning lidar laser-sensor business, developers are embracing solid state systems that do away with all that spinning. CD players pulling music tracks from spinning discs?
Most likely, your expectations for the age of drone delivery involve cute li'l quadcopters that descend onto your porch with a gentle bzzzz, deposit a box of diapers or a pizza or whatever else you just ordered online, before zooming back to base, ready to deliver the next whim. That's the vision pitched by the likes of Amazon, UPS, and DHL, and it's an appealing one. Boeing has a different idea for delivery drones, one that's bigger by an order of magnitude. Last week, the aerospace giant revealed a prototype for an electric, unmanned cargo air vehicle that it says could haul as much as 500 pounds--that's 400 large Domino's pizzas or 11,291 newborn-sized diapers--as far as 20 miles. But this big buzzer isn't going to your house.