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Ex Machina. Source: Youtube/Universal Pictures

This week I attended an “Artificial Intelligence (AI) Roundtable” of leading scientists, entrepreneurs and venture investors. As the discussion focused mainly on basic statistical techniques, I left feeling unfulfilled. My friend, Matt Turck, recently wrote that “just about every major tech company is working very actively on AI,” which also means that every startup hungry for capital is purchasing a dot ‘ai’ domain name. As the lines blur between what is and what really isn’t, I feel it necessary to provide readers with a quick lens of how to view intelligent agents for mechatronics.

NAO robot. Photo courtesy: Paul Bremner/UWE

I was asked to write a short op-ed on the European Parliament Law Committee’s recommendations on civil law rules for robotics. In the end, the piece didn’t get published, so I am posting it here:

Last week I had the pleasure of debating the question “does AI pose a threat to society?” with friends and colleagues Christian List, Maja Pantic and Samantha Payne. The event was organised by the British Academy and brilliantly chaired by the Royal Society’s director of science policy Claire Craig. Here follows my opening statement:

Source: Waymo

Waymo (Google) has announced a pilot project in Phoenix offering a full ride service in their new minivans. Members of the public can sign up — the link is sure to be overwhelmed with applicants, but it has videos and more details — and some families are already participating.

by   -   April 24, 2017

In a time of “America First,” the benefits of space travel are clouded by the smoke of hyperbole. In reality, there has been over 2,000 inventions courtesy of NASA that are making our lives better here on Earth. Every day, we benefit as much from the journey as from the destination. These innovations include new medicines developed in zero gravity; faster autonomous transportation technologies; and groundbreaking advances in computing (launched above the clouds).

Luminar, a bay area startup, has revealed details on their new LIDAR. Unlike all other commercial offerings, this is a LIDAR using 1.5 micron infrared light. They hope to sell it for $1,000.

A new report from Navigant Research includes the chart shown below, ranking various teams on the race to robocar deployment. It’s causing lots of press headlines about how Ford is the top company and companies like Google and Uber are far behind. I elected not to buy the $3,800 report, but based on the summary I believe their conclusions are ill founded to say the least.

First ride: Encountering a school bus on real city streets in Austin, Texas. Credit: Waymo/Google

Recently we’ve seen a series of startups arise hoping to make robocars with just computer vision, along with radar. That includes recently unstealthed AutoX, the off-again, on again efforts of and at the non-startup end, the dedication of Tesla to not use LIDAR because it wants to sell cars today before LIDARs can be bought at automotive quantities and prices.

While Asimov’s laws are organised around the moral value of preventing harm to humans, they are not easy to interpret. We need to stop viewing them as an adequate ethical basis for robotic interactions with people, argues Tom Sorell.

Artificial intelligence (AI) already plays a major role in human economies and societies, and it will play an even bigger role in the coming years. To ponder the future of AI is thus to acknowledge that the future is AI. But how bright is that future? Or how dark?

Costs for electrifying Caltrain are projected to run over $1.5 billion. In this article, Brad Templeton examines an alternative: a robotic transit line that uses self-driving cars, vans and buses.

I generally pay very little attention when companies issue a press release about an “alliance.” It’s usually not a lot more than a press release, unless there are details on what will actually be built. The recent announcement that Uber plans to buy some self-driving cars from Daimler/Mercedes is mostly just such an announcement.

California published its summary of all the reports submitted by vendors testing robocars in the state. You can read the individual reports. They are interesting, but several other outlines have created summaries of the reports calculating things like the number of interventions per mile. On these numbers, Google’s lead is extreme. Of over 600,000 autonomous miles driven by the various teams, Google/Waymo was 97% of them — in other words, 30 times as much as everybody else put together.

Part 2: Autonomous Systems and Transparency

In my previous post I argued that a wide range of AI and Autonomous Systems (from now on I will just use the term AS as shorthand for both) should be regarded as Safety Critical. I include both autonomous software AI systems and hard (embodied) AIs such as robots, drones and driverless cars. Many will be surprised that I include in the soft AI category apparently harmless systems such as search engines. Of course no-one is seriously inconvenienced when Amazon makes a silly book recommendation, but consider very large groups of people. If a truth (such as global warming) is – because of accidental or willful manipulation – presented as false, and that falsehood is believed by a very large number of people, then serious harm to the planet (and we humans who depend on it) could result.


Earlier I posted my gallery of CES gadgets and included a photo of the eHang 184 from China, a “personal drone” able, in theory, to carry a person up to 100kg.

Whether the eHang is real or not, some version of the personal automated flying vehicle is coming, and it’s not that far away. When I talk about robocars, I am often asked “what about flying cars?” and there will indeed be competition between them. There are a variety of factors that will affect that competition, and many other social effects not yet much discussed.

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High-Performance Autonomous Vehicles
October 14, 2017

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