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) …
This story originally appeared in the December issue of Discover magazine as "Scientist in Toyland." It's easy to pin labels on Chuck Hoberman, but hard to stick with just one. He's a toymaker -- the brains behind the colorful, expanding Hoberman sphere, which you and your kids have been playing with since the early 1990s (and which earned a place in the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection). Physically, he works sometimes from an airy room on the second floor of a house-turned-office-suite near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Cambridge office is tidy, with white walls and plenty of light. The surfaces are usually cleared, but today they're cluttered with the material expressions of his geometric dreams: Models made of two-dimensional pieces, hinged together to form 3D structures that deform, bend or otherwise fold in prescribed ways.
There's plenty of competition: VirtualAPT, based in Brooklyn, has robots that glide through homes and provide immersive virtual reality tours; REX, a brokerage in Woodland Hills, Calif., has an AI-trained robot to answer potential buyers' questions at open houses; RealFriend and OjoLabs have AI-powered chatbots that mimic human conversation while providing deeply personalized home listings and buying advice. In Zenny's case, the robot is powered remotely by the real estate broker or property manager who is handling the showing from afar. It is also equipped with sensors to keep it from running into walls or people. In addition to Zenny, Zenplace's platform includes a full suite of rental management solutions, including tenant screening, electronic lockboxes for on-demand property viewings, and a secure online portal for rent payment. The company charges a $599 flat fee for some properties, and $99 a month for others. VirtualAPT's robots, which roll through homes capturing 360-degree videos in 4K resolution, provide ultra-crisp, high-quality images.
A robot that can perform colonoscopies may make the procedure simpler and less unpleasant. Pietro Valdastri at the University of Leeds in the UK and his colleagues have developed a robotic arm that uses a machine learning algorithm to move a flexible probe along the colon. The probe is a magnetic endoscope, a tube with a camera lens at the tip, that the robot controls via a magnet external to the body. The system can either work autonomously or be controlled by a human operator using a joystick, which pushes the endoscope tip further along the colon. The system also keeps track of the location and orientation of the endoscope inside the colon.
Scientists at Cornell University have created a tiny micro-robot that "walks" using four legs. Invisible to the naked eye, 10 of the computer chip bots could fit within the full stop at the end of this sentence. Their legs can be independently triggered to bend using laser light. It would take less than a week to make a swarm of a million robots, which Itai Cohen and Paul McEuen Labs hope could be adapted to become a medical tool. They are small enough to be injected into the body and Prof Cohen hopes that eventually robots like these could be designed to hunt down and destroy cancer cells.
Now activities and communal meals have vanished. Aside from one quick visit in the lobby, she has not seen her daughter in person in six months; they communicate through 15-minute video calls when staff members can arrange them. "She's more isolated in her room now," Dr. Spangler said. "And she misses having a dog." Knowing that her mother couldn't manage pet care, even if the residence had permitted animals, Dr. Spangler looked online for the robotic pets she had heard about.
Rapid prototyping, the fast and cost-effective production of prototypes or models -- better known as 3D printing -- has long since established itself as an important tool for industry. "If this concept could be transferred to the nanoscale to allow individual molecules to be specifically put together or separated again just like LEGO bricks, the possibilities would be almost endless, given that there are around 1060 conceivable types of molecule," explains Dr. Christian Wagner, head of the ERC working group on molecular manipulation at Forschungszentrum Jülich. There is one problem, however. Although the scanning tunnelling microscope is a useful tool for shifting individual molecules back and forth, a special custom "recipe" is always required in order to guide the tip of the microscope to arrange molecules spatially in a targeted manner. This recipe can neither be calculated, nor deduced by intuition -- the mechanics on the nanoscale are simply too variable and complex.
The National Science Foundation has selected The University of Texas at Austin to lead the NSF AI Institute for Foundations of Machine Learning, bolstering the university's existing strengths in this emerging field. Machine learning is the technology that drives AI systems, enabling them to acquire knowledge and make predictions in complex environments. This technology has the potential to transform everything from transportation to entertainment to health care. UT Austin -- already among the world's top universities for artificial intelligence -- is poised to develop entirely new classes of algorithms that will lead to more sophisticated and beneficial AI technologies. The university will lead a larger team of researchers that includes the University of Washington, Wichita State University and Microsoft Research.
In 1959, Nobel laureate and nanotechnology visionary Richard Feynman suggested that it would be interesting to "swallow the surgeon" -- that is, to make a tiny robot that could travel through blood vessels to carry out surgery where needed. This iconic imagining of the future underscored modern hopes for the field of micrometre-scale robotics: to deploy autonomous devices in environments that their macroscopic counterparts cannot reach. However, the construction of such robots presents several challenges, including the obvious difficulty of how to assemble a microscopic locomotive device. In a paper in Nature, Miskin et al.1 report electrochemically driven devices that propel laser-controlled microrobots through a liquid, and which could be easily integrated with microelectronics components to construct fully autonomous microrobots. Designing propulsion strategies for microrobots that move through liquid environments is challenging because strong drag forces prevent microscale objects from maintaining momentum2.