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) …
AI models invariably encounter ambiguous situations that they struggle to respond to with instructions alone. That's problematic for autonomous agents tasked with, say, navigating an apartment, because they run the risk of becoming stuck when presented with several paths. To solve this, researchers at Amazon's Alexa AI division developed a framework that endows agents with the ability to ask for help in certain situations. Using what's called a model-confusion-based method, the agents ask questions based on their level of confusion as determined by a predefined confidence threshold, which the researchers claim boosts the agents' success by at least 15%. "Consider the situation in which you want a robot assistant to get your wallet on the bed … with two doors in the scene and an instruction that only tells it to walk through the doorway," wrote the team in a preprint paper describing their work.
Engineers at Tokyo-based company Seven Dreamers started developing a laundry-folding robot called Laundroid in 2005, and now, there is finally a robot to show off at CES 2018. We haven't seen it in person yet, but we spoke with Seven Dreamers CEO Shin Sakane for a preview. The idea is: You drop clean, dry clothes into a box in a pretty home appliance, and then several hours later you can collect the folded, sorted items. "Soft material like clothing is one of the hardest problems for AI even now," Sakane says. "Laundry folding seems like an easy task but it's actually very hard, so that's why no one has ever done it before."
Amazon is inching closer to making a wheeled robotic assistant that can be controlled via its Echo smart speakers. In a report from Bloomberg, sources from Amazon say the company has pulled engineers off of other projects to develop the bot -- a show of faith that indicates Amazon may soon look to bring the wheeled-assistant to market. The robot, called'Vesta', is controlled by Amazon's voice assistant, Alexa, and measures about waist-high according to Bloomberg. Amazon is inching closer to making a wheeled robotic assistant that can be controlled via its Echo smart speakers. It's unclear exactly what the intended purpose of the device would be, though speculation is that the bot would be a kind of mobile Echo, bringing the Alexa capabilities with users around their home.
Amazon Echo devices are compatible with a multitude of smart home products. Amazon's Echo smart speaker is reportedly about to get a premium upgrade. Citing people familiar with the situation, Bloomberg published a report on Friday saying that the e-commerce giant is poised to unveil a next-level Echo in 2020 that's larger in size to accommodate new technology, better sound and at least four tweeters. The online tech behemoth has previously worked to upgrade the Echo's sound with software tweaks, offering a standalone subwoofer and add-ons that connect the speaker to a stereo. An Echo with improved sound quality would directly rival high-end Sonos speakers and Apple's acoustically rich $300 HomePod.
Laundry is way, way, way up there on the list of things that people really wish robots could do for them. It's a very hard problem, though--we've (sort of) seen some amount of laundry cycle success in a research environment, and there are robots out there that will fold some of your clothes while taking up a lot of space and probably not working very well, all things considered. The challenge, as always, is that complex manipulation tasks are very hard for robots, especially when vision is involved and everything gets wrapped up in a semi-structured, non-optimized environment. From that perspective, laundry is a fantastic example of tasks that humans are ideal for but that robots struggle with. A solution to this problem is to just let humans help the robots out--for example, by remotely operating a mobile manipulator in your house to do the laundry for you.
At last week's CES (Consumer Electronics Show), the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Centre were teeming with talking robots of all shapes and sizes. There were robots that clean, from ForwardX's autonomous lawnmower and Samsung's Bot Air that travels around a home purifying air to the self-deodorising LavvieBot, a self-cleaning litter box for cats. For dog-lovers, Sony's Aibo robot canine made a return to the annual Las Vegas event. For travellers, the useful Rover Speed and Ovis were on display; both are autonomous robot cases that follow their owners around an airport. Or you could choose to just dump your bags on the back of LG's Cloi CartBot, one of a suite of helpful robots that autonomously navigate, and come equipped with touch displays and voice recognition.
The last time I fully interacted with a robot was when ASUS launched the Zenbo back in 2016. As cute as it was, the fact that it lacked arms meant it couldn't exactly help out with everyday tasks. Ironically, two years later Honda discontinued its iconic humanoid robot, Asimo, which painted a grim future for home robots. But not all is lost. Chinese robot maker Ubtech has been developing its own machine with all four limbs, which ended up being the Walker.
Depending on your perspective, 2018 either brought us closer to salvation by way of robots, or closer to doom by way of robots: Where some see the end of meaningless work, others see the end of humanity, also meaningless. Whatever your biases toward the machines, this year has been a big one for the field of robotics, which continues to roll around joyously in the convergence of falling prices, better software and hardware, and skyrocketing demand from industry. Given that it's That Time of Year again, we've collected a list of the biggest moments in robotics in 2018, from the continued ascendance of Boston Dynamics' SpotMini quadruped to the rapid rise and fall of the home robot. Taking a quick break from uploading videos of its humanoid robot Atlas doing backflips, Boston Dynamics announced that one of its machines, the four-legged SpotMini, will finally go on sale in 2019. The question now becomes: What do you do with a robot that can fight off stick-wielding humans?
Science fiction has promised us a whole lot of technology that it's rudely failed to deliver--jetpacks, flying cars, teleportation. The most useful one might be the robot companion, à la Rosie from The Jetsons, a machine that watches over the home. It seemed like 2018 was going to be the year when robots made a big leap in that direction. Two machines in particular surfaced to much fanfare: Kuri, an adorable R2D2 analog that can follow you around and take pictures of your dinner parties, and Jibo, a desktop robot with a screen for a face that works a bit like Alexa, only it can dance. But then, as quickly as the home robots came, they disappeared.
When I was a kid, I was certain that by the time I was a grown woman, I'd have a friendly little robot friend. Adulthood was in the FUTURE, and the FUTURE had robots like R2-D2, Threepio, Data, and so on. Alas, I am a tax-paying adult with a full-time job, and no, I do not have an adorable mechanical friend that comically beep-boops its disapproval when I get up to my hijinks and shenanigans. But around this time last year, I had an inkling of hope that this future was at least on the horizon. Mayfield Robotics's Kuri Robot was lovable, functional, and buzzworthy with its cute mannerisms and deft behavioral touches.