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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.

"Right now, we're in more optimistic times," said Parker. "There have been a lot of advances in robotics, with [IBM's] Watson and natural language processing and speech recognition with technologies like Apple's Siri."

So what advances are just ahead of us?

Major gains are being made, or are about to be made, in natural language processing, speech recognition, object recognition, computer vision, machine translation and neural networks.

Many of those technologies will be used to build robots that move more fluidly, like humans. They also will help scientists integrate multiple capabilities into one robotic system.

"We've made a lot of deep advances in many focused areas, but we need one big system to pull a lot of these systems together into one machine," Parker said. "To have a household robot that can obey your commands, we're still pretty far from that. I would say 10 to 20 years. It's not about the glue. When you build one subsystem, it affects how another subsystem should be designed. You can't build them in isolation and just glue them together. It has to be holistic."

Different areas of AI research also will come together to support the creation of the smart home or the Internet of Things.

"People expect a lot from this futuristic system," Chernova said. "They want their system to predict what they want. They get frustrated if they have to tell it something more than once. AI falls into that with modeling and predicting the behaviors of people."

She added that artificial intelligence is ingrained into IoT and should be able to take the industry within about 10 years to a level where people are interested in using it.

Google's Hinton said he's most excited about gains in neural networks that would enable computers to understand the content of sentences and documents.

"That is close to the core of Google because it involves understanding sentences, and if you can understand what a document is saying, you can do a much better search," Hinton said. "That's a core AI problem. Can you read a document and know what it's saying? It could work in the legal field where you're looking for precedents. You can't read all the cases there ever were, but computers can."

AI has probably received the most attention in the past few years because of Google's work with autonomous cars.

Most agree that self-driving cars will advance significantly in the next several years, and Google expects to have them on the road by 2020. What will likely slow that progress, according to Parker, will be the legal issues that surround autonomous cars.

"Who will be to blame if the car makes a mistake?" Parker asked. "From a technical perspective, Google has been able to have cars drive thousands of miles in a restricted area. You take that car and put it in the middle of Maine in the middle of a blizzard, it probably won't work. Maybe we'll see them working as a lift service on a large campus, that's much more restrained because you're on a single, known campus. That sort of thing is much more likely soon."


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