As early as Homer, more than 2,500 years ago, Greek mythology explored the idea of automatons and self-moving devices. By the third century B.C., engineers in Hellenistic Alexandria, in Egypt, were building real mechanical robots and machines. And such science fictions and historical technologies were not unique to Greco-Roman culture.
The International Federation of Robotics (IFR), at a press conference here last week, announced preliminary 2018 figures for the industrial sector of the robotics industry. Last year set another record — but just barely. It was only up 1% over 2017. No information was given about service and field robotics.
It’s been two years since the last time I judged the Automate Startup Competition. More than any other trade show contest, this event has been an oracle of future success. In following up with the last vintage of participants, all of the previous entrees are still operating and many are completing multi-million dollar financing rounds. As an indication of the importance of the venue, and quite possibly the growth of the industry, The Robot Report announced last week that 2017 finalist, Kinema Systems was acquired by SoftBank’s Boston Dynamics.
As part of our programme of international science and policy dialogue about AI, last year we worked with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to bring together leading researchers from across disciplines to consider the implications of AI for equality, transparency, and democracy.
My feet are aching, as usual, after 3 days on the CES show floor, and the question people always ask others there is “what have you seen that was interesting?”
I won’t say I didn’t see anything interesting, and I had a large number of rewarding conversations with all sorts of companies, making the trip very worthwhile, but I will say I saw less that was new and exciting than ever before. This may be a result of the show’s constant growth that meant in 3 days I still did not manage to get to 3 1/2 major rooms of the show, putting my focus on cars as I usually do.
Earlier this month, I crawled into Dr. Wendy Ju‘s autonomous car simulator to explore the future of human-machine interfaces at CornellTech’s Tata Innovation Center. Dr. Ju recently moved to the Roosevelt Island campus from Stanford University. While in California, the roboticist was famous for making videos capturing people’s reactions to self-driving cars using students disguised as “ghost-drivers” in seat costumes. Professor Ju’s work raises serious questions of the metaphysical impact of docility.
I have been doing research on intelligence for 30 years. Like most of my colleagues, I did not get involved in the field with the aim of producing technological objects, but because I have an interest in the the abstract nature of the notion of intelligence. I wanted to understand intelligence. That’s what science is: Understanding.
A day before snow hindered New York commuters, researchers at the University of Iowa and Princeton identified the growth of urbanization as the leading cause for catastrophic storm damage. Wednesday’s report stated that the $128 billion wake of Hurricane Harvey was 21 times greater due to the population density of Houston, one of America’s fastest growing cities. This startling statistic is even more alarming in light of a recent UN study which reported that 70% of the projected 9.7 billion people in the world will live in urban centers by 2050. Superior urban management is one of the major promises of autonomous systems and smart cities.
Two weeks ago, I participated on a panel at the BCI Summit exploring the impact of quantum computing. As a neophyte to the subject, I marveled at the riddle posed by Grover’s Algorithm. Imagine you are assigned to find a contact in a phonebook with a billion names, but all you are given is a telephone number. A quantum computer is able to decipher the answer with remarkable speed at a rate of .003% of today’s binary systems require one operation per line of data (in this case one billion).
Should we be afraid of artificial intelligence? For me, this is a simple question with an even simpler, two letter answer: no. But not everyone agrees – many people, including the late physicist Stephen Hawking, have raised concerns that the rise of powerful AI systems could spell the end for humanity.
This week a Harvard Business School student challenged me to name a startup capable of producing an intelligent robot – TODAY! At first I did not understand the question, as artificial intelligence (AI) is an implement like any other in a roboticist’s toolbox. The student persisted, she demanded to know if I thought that the current co-bots working in factories could one day evolve to perceive the world like humans. It’s a good question that I didn’t appreciate at the time as robots are best deployed for specific repeatable tasks, even with deep learning systems. By contrast, mortals comprehend their surroundings (and other organisms) using a sixth sense, intuition.