Even before Stephen Wolfram took the stage, he evoked the largest applause of the conference so far. As the creator of Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha, and author of A New Kind of Science, Wolfram stands almost as tall as Kurzweil himself in the eyes of the audience. His pronouncements carry more weight than most of the conference's other speakers, which is why I felt relieved when Wolfram disregarded worry about our extinction at the hands of sentient robots, and instead focused on a very different concept of what role AI will play in our future.
Since I got here, I've been wondering what exactly the Singularity's going to look like. How are we going to create artificial intelligence, and when we do, how are we going to integrate ourselves with this advanced technology? Luckily, NYU philosopher David Chalmers was there to break it all down.
Ray Kurzweil's concept of the Singularity rests on two axioms: that computers will become more intelligent than humans, and that humans and computers will merge, allowing us access to that increased thinking power. So it only makes sense to begin the conference with discussions of those two fundamental concepts. No one disputed the emergence of intelligence beyond our own, but they did give me plenty of reasons to worry about how that process might take place.
Ray Kurzweil wasn't like the other nice, Jewish boys he grew up with in Queens. While they were putting baseball cards in the spokes of their bikes, Ray was writing computer programs and shaking hands with the President. Now, those other kids from the neighborhood are doctors and lawyers, and Kurzweil is a techno-prophet whose book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, changed our discourse on technology with its bold predictions about the coming merger between man and machine.
When first-person-shooter video games first hit the market, the computer-controlled bot characters that were deployed in multiplayer matches to fill out the ranks ran around like the Keystone Cops. Now, the bots do a bit better, but not nearly good enough for the people behind the BotPrize.
Ask anyone who's ever talked back to their GPS navigation system: Product developers are pretty good at using technology to humanize inanimate objects. But how would you like it if your car responded to your presence -- lighting up with delight or panting like a pet dog? What if, more helpfully, it recognized your touch on the steering wheel, and queued up your favorite MP3s and set your seating position just the way you liked it?
In an experiment run at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems in the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne, Switzerland*, robots that were designed to cooperate in searching out a beneficial resource and avoiding a poisonous one learned to lie to each other in an attempt to hoard the resource. Picture a robo-Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
In 1950, Alan Turing, the father of computer science, proposed a test for machine intelligence: Ask a human and a computer a question, and see if another person could discern the digital answer from the biological one. Now IBM engineers have devised a tougher task for Watson, their latest supercomputer: Jeopardy.
Ever wish you could play a game that tailors its strategy around your particular playing style? Thanks to a team of game programmers affiliated with the MIT Media Lab, and their project The Restaurant Game, that might be a reality sooner than you think.
It takes a village to raise a robot. At least, that's the belief of the creators of iCub, a humanoid robot the size of a 3-1/2-year-old child, who are making its development entirely open-domain.
The iCub is the brainchild of a group of European universities led by the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genoa, who have been charged by the European Commission to develop a functioning humanoid child. They developed a 2-1/2-foot-tall, 70-pound robot child with 53 mechanical joints that allow it to move its head, neck, arms, fingers, eyes and legs. It can also feel with its fingertips, grip with its hands, and listen.
Remember Clippy, the annoying pop-up virtual assistant that would always dispense "helpful" advice, until you wanted to virtually bend it out of shape? Well, despite it getting axed several years ago due to across-the-board hatred, and getting called "one of the worst software design blunders in the annals of computing", Clippy has inspired the Department of Defense to fund the creation of a bevy of new virtual assistants. WTF, DARPA?
The long-awaited robot-led holocaust may happen any day now. That seems to be the finding of a secret conference of the world's top computer scientists, roboticists, and artificial intelligence researchers. The clandestine meeting focused on topics surrounding advancements in robotics and how they could quickly spiral out of human control. This includes the danger that robots could autonomously kill humans -- a danger than conference participants believe may already exist.
Four years ago, a team of researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland switched on Blue Brain, a computer designed to mimic a functioning slice of a rat's brain. At first, the virtual neurons fired only when prodded by a simulated electrical current. But recently, that has changed.
Apparently, the simulated neurons have begun spontaneously coordinating, and organizing themselves into a more complex pattern that resembles a wave. According to the scientists, this is the beginning of the self-organizing neurological patterns that eventually, in more complex mammal brains, become personality.
Robo-Einstein Learns to Smile: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego
According to developmental psychologists, as infants, we learn to govern our bodies through a process of random experimentation and feedback. We contort our faces into weird shapes, watch our parents react, and then switch up our movements accordingly.
Now, computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego are applying this same strategy to robotics research. Through the use of machine learning, they’ve made it possible for their robot–an Einstein lookalike–to teach itself to make realistic facial expressions.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.