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) …
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.
The self-driving car world is a secretive one, where software, hardware, and testing methods are jealously guarded (and occasionally spark a major lawsuit). But this week, we got a glimpse into what these developers have actually been up to, thanks first to a newly released batch of "disengagement" reports every autonomous vehicle outfit testing in California provides to the state at the end of each year. The disengagement data isn't too helpful, but the reports do reveal a serious spike in would-be AV testing, among other tidbits. More intel comes from SoftBank's latest move in this space, a nearly $1 billion investment in AV startup Nuro. In non-robo news, we get a tour of all the tools and tricks that keep Nascar races racy, and bid adieu to the 380, Airbus' freakishly large passenger jet.
Move over Alexa… there's a new virtual assistant in town. Passengers on board MSC Bellissima, which will be launched by godmother Sophia Loren in Southampton next month (March 2), will meet MSC's newest crew member Zoe – the cruise industry's answer to the voice-activated digital assistant. Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), Zoe can speak seven languages and answer over 800 of the most commonly asked questions – with thousands of different variants of each query – providing information about on-board services, suggestions for activities, and even help in booking a specific service. She's easy to use too: all guests need to do is say, "OK Zoe", and she's ready to help. Developed in partnership with HARMAN and Samsung Electronics, Zoe will be able to interact with in-cabin TVs to offer further guidance to passengers and, as with at-home devices, passengers will be able to connect their phones directly to the device via Bluetooth in order to access personal music and podcasts.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) Data61 has partnered with Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) to help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of transport systems. The Traffic Congestion Management program, which has been under way for a few years, is touted as "analysing automated end-to-end, multi-modal journey planning for operators and passengers". Addressing the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities' inquiry into automated mass transit in Australia on Friday, Dr Chen Cai, leader of the Advanced Data Analytics in Transport (ADAIT) group at Data61 and the manager of Data61's intelligent transportation system (ITS) business, said the partnership has seen the development of a prototype artificial intelligence (AI) engine for congestion management. According to Cai, by using the tool, it is possible to model the impact of network changes or disruptions and then issue automatic journey planning information for transport operators and travellers. "[It's about] how to bring intelligence into managing next-generation congestion, with the key idea, instead of being reactive, which is how we used to manage events in road networks, we want to be proactive," he explained.
China is moving forward in the global "race to 5G," as state-owned carrier China Mobile has announced (via Xinhua) that it's already building the first 5G smart highway -- a city-scale system of roads capable of supporting cellular network-coordinated transportation services. The infrastructure is currently under construction in Wuhan, the capital of China's centrally located Hubei Province. As the country's largest telecommunications company, China Mobile plans to roll out a collection of 5G services on the highway, beginning with "smart toll stations" that could do away with current toll transponders and human operators. The carrier also plans to gather real-time traffic information and make AI-assisted predictions using the data, as well as supporting autonomous cars. While China Mobile isn't the world's first carrier to either announce 5G highway plans or begin limited deployments, it may wind up being the first to offer actual commercial and coordinated transportation services on live highways -- depending on progress made by rivals in other countries.
The past five years have been marked by tremendous growth in the autonomous vehicle industry. While many jurisdictions continue to jostle for leadership in the space, an even greater number of original equipment manufacturers, technology companies and start-ups are fast-tracking new Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) technology with an eye to the huge profits to be made. Moving forward, legislators will be tasked with balancing several competing needs: protecting the public, safeguarding data and privacy, ensuring safety standards and creating regulatory certainty, while leaving room for innovation in this highly competitive industry. Following the 2018 introduction of testing guidelines from Transport Canada and the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, a new and robust regulatory framework will assist in the safe development and deployment of CAVs on Canadian roads. In Ontario, as of January 1, 2019, the ban on operating CAVs in Ontario has been lifted in respect of vehicles equipped with SAE Level 3 automation.
A private hire firm has called for standardization of regulation across all local authorities to ensure safety in future robo-taxi services. The call came in an interview with TU-Automotive by Andrew Wescott, head of regulatory and external affairs at Addison Lee, as he revealed the company's finding from the MERGE Greenwich project that carried out simulated autonomous vehicle ride-sharing trials in south-east London and sought consumer opinion. Wescott said the project showed that a set of national standards for private hire operators should be introduced across the UK and a national database of licensed private hire drivers to be set up. He said: "There are some authorities that are, let's say, a bit freer in licensing and others that are a bit stricter." While admitting several trials of this type are currently being staged in the UK, he said: "The important thing for us is there's a national approach that is then implemented at a local level. Because otherwise you might get some challenges in terms of the way you operate and also the way in which the transport system itself works. We're not going to go overnight from manual to autonomous, there'll be a staged process. Also, there'll be a need to integrate that with existing transport networks. That needs that level of national structure first."
There's nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. I can think of no better phrase to describe the current state of the field of artificial Intelligence. Like the Gutenberg Press, electricity, the motor car and computing itself, artificial intelligence is an idea whose time has come. Academia, industry and government have already glimpsed its potential, and they are hungry for more. It might seem like I'm stating the obvious, but there are still those who think or hope that we can put the genie back in the bottle -- that we can legislate our way out of this conundrum -- so I wish to make clear my position right from the start: It's not a question of if, it's a question of when.
There is a strong case to be made that artificial intelligence (AI) is now the most central topic in technology. While the computer science that underpins AI has been in development since the 1950s, the rate of innovation has gone through multiple step changes in the last ten years. The technological reasons for this are well understood: the advent of neural networks; an increase in semiconductor processing power; and a strategic shift away from AI systems that rely on parameter-driven algorithms towards self-reinforced and multiplicative learning, machines that get smarter the more data they are fed and scenarios they negotiate. Development has been open and collaborative. The benefits of AI in process efficiency and, potentially, accuracy are clear.
That old saw about watching the money turns out to work as well in the wild world of transportation as anywhere else. First up, the robotics veterans behind autonomous vehicle company Aurora just raised a cool $530 million in funding, and check out where it came from: stalwart Silicon Valley venture firm Sequoia Capital and ... Amazon. We chilled with 600 acolytes of the micromobility craze--you know, the bikes, scooters, velomobiles, and unicycles that have taken so many cities by storm. Also, we got inside a pair of track-worthy vehicles: the Porsche 911 Carrera and the roller coaster Mr. Will Pemble built in his backyard. Let's get you caught up.