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) …
A sad cycle has overtaken the gadget business. It starts this week at CES, tech's biggest annual convention, where inventors compete to connect the most random things to the Internet. This year's "smart" stuff includes pillows, air fresheners and even toilets. A few months from now we'll see different headlines: That smart thing you bought is actually spying on you. Sooner or later, the story gets worse: Your smart thing has been hacked.
Are you ready to talk to your toilet? Those are just a few of the ideas we've seen at CES 2018, the annual consumer technology confab here at the Las Vegas Convention Center and other venues. Sure, there are tech titans here battling to control our computers, TVs and smart homes. But our favorite part is the thousands of other companies that gather to launch something new. While these ideas sometimes catch on, like fitness trackers and wireless ear buds, many go nowhere.
More than 3,900 companies are on hand to show off their latest technologies at CES this week, but there's one giant name that stands out from the pack: Google. This is the first time in several years that the Mountain View, Calif. CES is changing from a show where you show up with the flashiest gadget. Now there's a greater focus on creating partnerships between small and large companies to make each product work within constellation of others to help people get through the day more efficiently, said Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association, which hosts CES. Tech giants want their assistants to be the glue of that life operating system -- the voice that helps you turn on your lights, power your car's dashboard and control everything from your shower head to your bed.
Boeing recently offered a first glimpse of its newest military aircraft, a large, stingray-shaped drone it hopes will win an intense Navy competition to build an uncrewed aircraft capable of landing on an aircraft carrier. Drones have been a vital part of the Pentagon's arsenal for years, but the competition for a Navy carrier-based version that can refuel jet fighters in the midair would mark a significant advancement in the technology -- and become another sign how the military is increasingly integrating robots into the way it fights. In addition to Boeing, two of the Pentagon's top suppliers, General Atomics and Lockheed Martin, are also vying for a contract to build as many as 76 of the vehicles that would become operational in the mid 2020s. Bids are due Jan. 3, setting the stage for a high-stakes competition in 2018. Though the Navy has not yet released the value of the contract, an earlier incarnation of the effort--in which the drones would both serve as refueling aircraft and have attack capabilities -- would have been worth $3 billion through 2022.
Is the outlook for technology in 2018 exciting--or slightly terrifying? Flip a coin, you'd be right either way. As I look into my crystal ball at what new technologies are most likely to shape our lives in the next 12 months, I see science-fiction dreams coming to life: glasses that mix reality and imagination, an electric car in my driveway and gadgets that charge without plugs. But coming out of a year where most Americans were hacked and Silicon Valley got scolded by Congress, there's plenty to worry about. How many ways will artificial intelligence make decisions without us?
There's a graveyard in space littered with the corpses of dozens of dead satellites, a remote spot in the cosmos reserved to entomb spacecraft at the end of their lives. Even the most robust and expensive satellites eventually break down or run out of fuel, and must be retired to a remote parking orbit more than 22,000 miles away, safely out of the way of other satellites. There, the graveyard holds billions of dollars-worth of some of the most expensive hardware ever to leave the surface of the Earth -- including not just commercial communications satellites, but some of the Pentagon's most sensitive assets, used for spying, guiding bombs and warning against missile launches. Now, the Defense Advanced Projects Agency, NASA and others, are developing technologies that would extend the life of the critical infrastructure in space, preventing satellites from being shipped to the graveyard for years. If successful, the agencies would have fleets of robots with arms and cameras that could inspect, refuel and repair satellites keeping them operational well beyond their expected lifetimes.
Eric Schmidt said Thursday that he is stepping down in January from his role as executive chairman of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, and will begin serving in a more limited capacity as a technical adviser. Although he will keep a position on the board, the announcement marks the end of an era -- both for Schmidt, who was brought on in 2001, and for the company, which underwent a major restructuring in 2015. That transition saw Google separate its traditional operations, such as search, Gmail and YouTube, from some of its more ambitious and costly ventures, including its experiments in health care and new technology. Schmidt said Thursday that he felt confident stepping aside after having successfully overseen Google's evolution into Alphabet. "In recent years, I've been spending a lot of my time on science and technology issues, and philanthropy, and I plan to expand that work," he said in a statement.
Before you buy any "smart" gadgets, make sure they're not dumb. This holiday season, a third of Americans plan to buy a smart home device, according to the Consumer Technology Association. But just hooking up the Internet to a door lock, kettle or dog bowl (yes, that's a thing) doesn't make it smart. The trick is figuring out which ones are worth the cost, trouble and inevitable security risks. I've been in those weeds.
Apple on Monday confirmed it has bought Shazam, the music app that can identify a song by hearing just a snippet of it. The acquisition boosts Apple's position in the music world and advances its artificial intelligence efforts. Shazam, launched in 1999, claims that at least 1 billion people have downloaded its app and used it to identify songs at least 30 billion times. Its service was one of the first AI products to be used by a broad audience. As Apple faces other tech giants in this increasingly competitive arena, analysts say Shazam could add significant value not only with its own service but also by making Apple's AI products -- namely Siri -- smarter about music.
Two tech giants are in a messy streaming video fight right now, leaving consumers squeezed in the middle. Google on Tuesday said it would pull its YouTube apps from Amazon's Echo Show, which is an Alexa-powered device with a screen, and Fire TV starting next month. Why? Google pointed a finger at Amazon, which hasn't been selling some products from Google and Nest, which is also owned by Google's parent company. Amazon also doesn't allow Google products to have access to its Prime Video streaming service, the statement said. "Amazon doesn't carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn't make Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of Nest's latest products," the company said in a statement to The Post. "Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and Fire TV.