Nasa engineers said goodbye to the Opportunity rover with a touching final message. The little robot spent 15 years exploring the surface of Mars, sending back unprecedented amounts of information to engineers back on Earth. But months ago the signals it was sending back started to look worrying. It told Nasa its batteries were running low and it was getting dark – before it was swallowed by a dust storm that took over the entire planet. Since then, Nasa has been sending messages to the rover in the hope of waking it up and bringing it back to life.
On an isolated stretch of industrial flatland outside Knoxville, Tenn., a minibus is taking shape in a car factory unlike any other. The space is small, the size of a supermarket, and all but tool-free. Instead, perched in the center is the world's largest 3D printer, a gangly 10-by-40-foot behemoth with a steel-gray exterior, thick columnar footings, and derrick-like roof beams to true its frame. When the print heads are in motion, the equipment emits little more than a whisper, dexterously cutting sharp angles and rounded edges. Programmers on laptops and quality-control experts with tablets mill around, inputting design changes and fine-tuning the minibus's sensor instructions. Beyond the assembly room lies a kind of alchemist's playground, where young staffers with advanced degrees in materials science and mechanical engineering synthesize nanopolymers or test exotic particles for strength or thermal and electrical conductivity.
AI startups experienced their best funding year ever, raising a record $9.33 billion, or nearly 10% of last year's total VC investments that reached $99.5 billion, an 18-year high since the dot-com era.Getty The Artificial Intelligence (AI) winter is definitely over. As venture capital (VC) funding nears record since the dot-com era, with U.S. companies raising $99.5 billion versus $119.6 billion in 2000 according to the latest PwC MoneyTree Report, AI startups also experienced their best year ever, raising a record $9.33 billion, or nearly 10% of last year's total VC investments. Since 2013, VC investments in AI startups had regularly increased over the following four years, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 36%. However, AI-related funding significantly jumped last year, increasing 72% compared to 2017, despite a dip in deal activity, with 466 startups funded from 533 in 2017, and after increasing for four years. The report also reveals that seed-stage deal activity among AI-related companies rose to 28% in the fourth-quarter of 2018, compared to 24% in the three months prior, while expansion-stage deal activity jumped to 32%, from 23%.
The U.S. military wants to expand its use of artificial intelligence in warfare, but says it will take care to deploy the technology in accordance with the nation's values. The Pentagon outlined its first AI strategy in a report released Tuesday. The plan calls for accelerating the use of AI systems throughout the military, from intelligence-gathering operations to predicting maintenance problems in planes or ships. It urges the U.S. to advance such technology swiftly before other countries chip away at its technological advantage. "Other nations, particularly China and Russia, are making significant investments in AI for military purposes, including in applications that raise questions regarding international norms and human rights," the report says.
It's been an eventful week in tech. Amazon announced it would abandon plans to open one of its two HQ2 locations in New York City, and the company also acquired Wi-Fi mesh network startup Eero for an undisclosed sum -- a hint at Amazon's future smart home ambitions. The California Department of Motor Vehicles released reports from companies currently testing self-driving cars -- like Apple, Alphabet's Waymo, and GM Cruise. Google pledged to spend $13 billion on U.S. datacenters and offices in 24 states this year, and driverless truck startup TuSimple raised $95 million at a $1 billion valuation, joining the ranks of Aurora and Nuro as one of the best-funded companies in the autonomous vehicle industry. Nearly lost in the shuffle was President Trump's signing on Monday of an executive order establishing a program -- the American AI Initiative -- that formalizes several of the proposals made last spring during the White House's summit on AI.
Say this much for the "reproducibility crisis" in science: It's poorly timed. At the same instant that a significant chunk of elected and appointed policymakers seem to disbelieve the science behind global warming, and a significant chunk of parents seem to disbelieve the science behind vaccines … a bunch of actual scientists come along and point out that vast swaths of the social sciences don't stand up to scrutiny. They don't replicate--which is to say, if someone else does the same experiment, they get different (often contradictory) results. The scientific term for that is bad. What's good, though, is that the scientific method is built for self-correction.
In the United States and around the world, public concern is rising at the prospect of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without human intervention. As the United States Department of Defense releases a strategy on artificial intelligence (AI), questions loom about whether the US government intends to accelerate its investments in weapons systems that would select and engage targets without meaningful human control. The strategy considers a range of potential, mostly benign uses of AI and makes the bold claim that AI can help "reduce the risk of civilian casualties" by enabling greater accuracy and precision. The strategy commits to consider how to handle hacking, bias, and "unexpected behavior" among other concerns. Scientists have long warned about the potentially disastrous consequences that could arise when complex algorithms incorporated into fully autonomous weapons systems created and deployed by opposing forces meet in warfare.
Artificial intelligence is advancing rapidly. It is powering autonomous vehicles and being applied in areas from health care and finance to retail sales and national defense. As noted in a 2018 Brookings Institution report, "AI is a technology that is transforming every walk of life. It is a wide-ranging tool that enables people to rethink how we integrate information, analyze data, and use the resulting insights to improve decisionmaking." Yet most of the current AI impetus in the United States comes from the private sector.
The U.S. Department of Defense on Feb. 12 released its roadmap for artificial intelligence, and the most interesting thing about it might be what's missing from the report: The military is nowhere close to building a lethal weapon capable of thinking and acting on its own. As it turns out, the military applications of artificial intelligence today and in the foreseeable future are much more mundane. The Defense Department has several pilot projects in the works that focus on using AI to solve everyday problems such as floods, fires, and maintenance, said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, who heads up the Pentagon's new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. "We are nowhere close to the full autonomy question that most people seem to leap to a conclusion on when they think about DoD and AI," Shanahan said during a briefing Tuesday. It's not that Department of Defense hasn't given the idea of fully autonomous weapons much thought.
NASA's longest-running rover on Mars, Opportunity, is no more. Officials declared the 15-year-old rover Opportunity dead Wednesday, eight months after by a ferocious dust storm in June. The Mars rover Opportunity is dead after a record-setting 15-year run, but its memory – and scientific discoveries – live on. NASA announced Wednesday that the Mars rover was deemed dead after it hadn't communicated in more than eight months. Opportunity, along with twin Spirit, had unprecedented success and contributed greatly to scientific understand of the red planet, NASA said.