And the shift hasn't gone unnoticed by the Big Three cloud providers. AWS and others offer subscription-based remote data storage and online tools, and researchers say they can be an affordable alternative to setting up and maintaining their own hardware. The cloud's added computing power can also make it easier for researchers to run machine-learning algorithms designed to identify patterns and extract insights from vast amounts of climate data, for instance, on ocean temperatures and rainfall patterns, as well as decades' worth of satellite imagery. "The data sets are getting larger and larger," said Werner Vogels, chief technology officer of Amazon.com Inc. "So machine learning starts to play a more important role to look for patterns in the data."
It is one of several efforts in the industry to improve the usefulness of robots in warehouses, where they are increasingly common. The platform is currently online at one location near Madrid, where it has already reduced integration time for new robot systems by 60%, said Markus Voss, DHL Supply Chain's global chief information officer and chief operating officer. "We're at the beginning of the journey," Mr. Voss said. "We are implementing it as we speak at two additional sites, and we think it has applicability across all of our sites." The Morning Download delivers daily insights and news on business technology from the CIO Journal team.
The Morning Download delivers daily insights and news on business technology from the CIO Journal team. "I wouldn't fire the pollsters, but I would direct them to try to leverage machine learning, data mining and AI in their work more to get better projections," said Oren Etzioni, chief executive of the Allen Institute for AI, a nonprofit research center in Seattle. The size of this year's polling error is still unknown as the vote count continues. But polls generally predicted clear Democratic gains, not cliffhangers. No person or algorithm can predict human behavior accurately all the time, said Heidi Messer, chairman of New York-based Collective[i], which offers AI and predictive technologies for sales teams.
How could software designed to take the bias out of decision making, to be as objective as possible, produce these kinds of outcomes? After all, the purpose of artificial intelligence is to take millions of pieces of data and from them make predictions that are as error-free as possible. But as AI has become more pervasive--as companies and government agencies use AI to decide who gets loans, who needs more health care and how to deploy police officers, and more--investigators have discovered that focusing just on making the final predictions as error free as possible can mean that its errors aren't always distributed equally. Instead, its predictions can often reflect and exaggerate the effects of past discrimination and prejudice. In other words, the more AI focused on getting only the big picture right, the more it was prone to being less accurate when it came to certain segments of the population--in particular women and minorities.
While VR is almost completely immersive, AR superimposes images onto the real world. Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft Corp. and others are developing special glasses or headsets for these applications, also called extended reality. Silicon Valley's recruitment of artists and engineers who built some of Hollywood's most memorable digital effects reflects the view that mass-user adoption of AR and VR platforms depends on creating lifelike experiences. Populating the platforms with realistic computer-generated characters and scenery, similar to what is found in movies or videogames, is central to that effort. In recent years, former visual effects professionals have traded careers working for top Hollywood firms like Industrial Light & Magic (whose credits include the Star Wars films), Digital Domain (Marvel) and Weta Digital ("Lord of the Rings," "Jumanji: The Next Level") in favor of often higher-paying gigs at tech companies developing AR and VR applications and hardware. "It's harder to make as much money working in visual effects," said Paul Debevec, a veteran of the visual-effects industry who is now a professor at the University of Southern California.
Walmart Inc. has ended its effort to use roving robots in store aisles to keep track of its inventory, reversing a yearslong push to automate the task with the hulking machines after finding during the coronavirus pandemic that humans can help get similar results. The retail giant has ended its contract with robotics company Bossa Nova Robotics Inc., with which it joined over the past five years to gradually add six-foot-tall inventory-scanning machines to stores. Walmart had made the robots a frequent topic of conversation at media and investor events in recent years, hoping the technology could help reduce labor costs and increase sales by making sure products are kept in stock. Walmart ended the partnership because it found different, sometimes simpler solutions that proved just as useful, said people familiar with the situation. As more shoppers flock to online delivery and pickup because of Covid-19 concerns, Walmart has more workers walking the aisles frequently to collect online orders, gleaning new data on inventory problems, said some of these people.
He credits the gains to advances in smart software. Rather than asking customers to browse through the entire catalog of mugs, he says, algorithms, artificial intelligence and troves of data "are doing the work behind the scenes." Since the coronavirus outbreak, online retailers like Wayfair, Etsy Inc. ETSY 3.99% and Pinterest Inc. PINS -0.97% are ratcheting up efforts to leverage data from a surge in e-commerce to get better at helping customers find what they are looking for--even when they don't know what that is. To do that, these Web-only stores are supercharging search-and-recommendation engines by feeding data into sophisticated algorithms, building predictive models with a level of accuracy unimaginable just a few years ago. Not all of the capabilities are new--algorithms have been around for decades.
Researchers are studying whether artificial-intelligence tools that analyze things like typing speed, sleep patterns and speech can be used to help clinicians better identify patients with early-stage dementia. Huge quantities of data reflecting our ability to think and process information are now widely available, thanks to watches and phones that track movement and heart rate, as well as tablets, computers and virtual assistants such as Amazon Echo that can record the way we type, search the internet and pay bills.
A handful of drone-delivery startups want to help transport Covid-19 vaccines from distribution facilities to health centers, vying for a logistical role in what is likely to be a sprawling and complex undertaking. Several of these businesses recently have entered into medical delivery partnerships with drug companies and retailers--including Merck & Co. and Walmart Inc.-- that could help position them to take part in the high-profile effort to distribute Covid-19 vaccines.