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AI is getting smarter

Sharon Gaudin | Feb. 6, 2015
Artificial intelligence makes gains that will fuel driverless cars, IoT and robotics.

google car mountain view
Advances in artificial intelligence may get self-driving cars, such as Google's, shown here in Mountain View, California, on roadways by 2020. Credit: Google

With two-legged humanoid robots climbing stairs and driving cars, Internet of Things technology starting to control our houses and speech recognition software answering questions on mobile phones, artificial intelligence may be on the cusp of making huge advances that will change the way we work and live.

That's the word from artificial intelligence researchers and industry analysts attending the AAAI-15 conference last week in Austin.

"I think big leaps have been made in the last few years," said Geoffrey Hinton, a distinguished researcher at Google and professor at the University of Toronto. "AI is undergoing a growth spurt. We're beginning to solve problems that a few years ago we couldn't solve, like recognizing images."

Artificial intelligence, also known as AI, will be significantly more advanced in another five years, said Hinton, who is known for his work in machine learning and artificial neural networks, which are learning algorithms inspired by animals' central nervous systems, particularly the brain.

That can be a tough idea to sell in an industry that has seen scientists and observers waver drastically over the past 30 or 40 years between times of great optimism and equal amounts of pessimism about the potential of AI.

Back in the 1980s, for instance, there was heavy attendance at AI-focused conferences, but there was also little science being done to support all the buzz.

"People just didn't realize how hard this was, so even in the '60s we thought we'd soon have human-like robots that have all these human-like skills," said Lynne Parker, a professor at the University of Tennessee and a division director in Information and Intelligent Systems with the National Science Foundation. "Then we thought we were on a false trail."

Some of the old predictions haven't come to pass. We don't have robotic servants folding our laundry and taking care of our kids or elderly parents. We don't have robotic airplanes flying us to business meetings, or mobile phones that connect with our offices, homes and cars.

"I think repeatedly we've not met the estimates that we keep making about where we'd be in the future," said Sonia Chernova, an assistant professor of computer science and director of the Robot Autonomy and Interactive Learning lab at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. "Reasoning is just really hard and dealing with the real world is very hard... But we've made amazing gains."

But AI research is catching up to the hype that's surrounded it for so long.

Today, AI is on an upswing fueled by academic research labs at institutions like Carnegie Mellon University, WPI and MIT, as well as in industry, where tech companies including Google and Microsoft are throwing their financial and intellectual might behind AI efforts.


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