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How Microsoft helped make the first AI whisky

Intelligens whisky
Mackmyra’s Intelligens is billed as the first whisky created using AI. (Microsoft / Mackmyra Photo)

Computer scientists have tried using artificial intelligence to write poetry and compose music, with mixed results. But have they tried using it to make whisky?

We now know that they have, although drinkers in the U.S. will have to wait to judge how the AI experiment turned out.

Mackmyra, a Swedish whisky distillery, turned to Microsoft and a Finnish technology consulting firm called Fourkind to create novel whisky recipes for master blender Angela D’Orazio.

Jarno Kartela, principal machine learning partner at Fourkind, said in a Microsoft feature about the project that his company went with the cloud-based Azure platform and Machine Learning Studio “for its massive infrastructure … and its ease of deployment.”

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AI system finally passes 8th-grade science test

Aristo AI program
The Aristo AI software has matched an eighth-grader’s ability to pass a science test. (AI2 Illustration)

Five years after the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen challenged researchers to come up with an artificial intelligence program smart enough to pass an eighth-grade science test, that feat has been declared accomplished — by the hometown team.

The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, or AI2, announced today that its Aristo software scored better than 90% on a multiple-choice test geared for eighth graders, and better than 80% on a test for high school seniors.

There are caveats, of course: The exam, which was based on New York Regents aptitude tests, excluded questions that depended on interpreting pictures or diagrams. Those questions would have required visual interpretation skills that aren’t yet programmed into Aristo. Questions requiring a direct answer (that is, essay questions) were also left out. And for what it’s worth, Aristo would have been useless outside the areas of science in which it was trained.

Nevertheless, the exercise illustrated how far AI has come just since 2016, when all of the programs competing in the $80,000 Allen AI Science Challenge flunked.

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Billionaires Jack Ma and Elon Musk debate AI

Jack Ma and Elon Musk
Jack Ma and Elon Musk discuss the peril and promise of artificial intelligence at a Shanghai AI conference. (Xinhua via YouTube)

n the debate over artificial intelligence, whose side is Elon Musk on?

Musk, who’s in charge of SpaceX, Tesla and the Neuralink brain interface venture, sized up the odds with AliBaba founder Jack Ma today during a widely watched one-on-one session at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai.

The way Musk sees it, the prospects aren’t great for humans if future AI agents decide to go rogue. That’s despite pronouncements from AI researchers who say machines won’t match humans anytime soon when it comes to general intelligence, as opposed to specialized AI applications such as playing chess or Go.

“The biggest mistake I see artificial intelligence researchers making is assuming that they’re intelligent,” Musk said. “Yeah, they’re not, compared to AI. And so a lot of them cannot imagine something smarter than themselves.”

Musk said future AI agents will be “vastly smarter” than humans. “So what do you do with a situation like that?” he asked. “I’m not sure. I hope they’re nice.”

For his part, Ma saw more promise than peril in AI.

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Tech titans face scrutiny over killer-robot tech

SpotMini and Marc Raibert
Boston Dynamics’ four-legged SpotMini robot may look scary as it shares the stage with company founder and CEO Marc Raibert at Amazon’s re:MARS conference in Las Vegas in June. But a report published this month praises Boston Dynamics’ owner, SoftBank, for confirming that it won’t develop technologies that could be used for military purposes. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Dutch activists are voicing concerns about technologies that could open the way for lethal autonomous weapons – such as AI software, facial recognition and swarming aerial systems – and are wondering where several tech titans including Amazon and Microsoft stand.

So are some AI researchers in the United States.

report issued by Pax, a Dutch group that’s part of an international initiative known as the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, calls out Amazon, Microsoft and other companies for not responding to the group’s inquiries about their activities and policies in the context of lethal autonomous weapons.

“Why are companies like Microsoft and Amazon not denying that they’re currently developing these highly controversial weapons, which could decide to kill people without direct human involvement?” the report’s lead author, Frank Slijper, said this week in a news release. “Many experts warn that they would violate fundamental legal and ethical principles and would be a destabilizing threat to international peace and security.”

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Big Data is a bigger deal than venture capital in AI

AI panel
Optio3 CEO Sridhar Chandrashekar, far right, discusses issues surrounding artificial intelligence with moderator Melissa Hellmann of The Seattle Times, Dave Thurman of Northeastern University and Ben Wilson of Intellectual Ventures. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

“Data is the new oil” may be a classic cliche characterizing how important raw numbers are for the computer industry, but when it comes to artificial intelligence ventures, the cliche may not go far enough.

“One of the big blocks for AI is data,” Ben Wilson, director of the Center for Intelligent Devices at Bellevue, Wash.-based Intellectual Ventures, said today at a forum about AI presented as part of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Speaker Series. “Traditionally, startup companies need capital. Now, if you’re doing AI, you need capital and you also need data. And you’re going to burn through your data before you burn through your capital.”

Wilson pointed out that the big players in the AI market are the companies that have the data, whether it’s Amazon or Microsoft, Facebook or Google.

“Before you have a good idea, start with data,” he said. “And if you’re someone who has a great idea but you have no data, that’s going to be a big roadblock for you, and you’re going to have to find some collaborators or partners who have access to the data you need.”

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Neuralink takes the wraps off brain probe

Neuralink connection
An illustration shows how electrodes could be implanted in a patient’s brain, with wires running under the scalp to a device surgically implanted behind the ear. (Neuralink Illustration)

Two years after word emerged that tech billionaire Elon Musk was backing a company called Neuralink, the secretive brain-link venture opened up about its progress, including tests of a robotic “sewing machine” that has wired up rat brains with threadlike sensors.

During tonight’s presentation at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Musk and other company executives said they’d seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration to start wiring up human test subjects as early as next year. And they’re looking for help.

“The main reason for doing this presentation is recruiting,” said Musk, who has reportedly invested more than $100 million in Neuralink and serves as its CEO. The company currently has about 100 employees.

Neuralink aims to develop a brain interface capable of recording deep-brain electrical activity, with the objective of understanding and treating brain disorders as well as preserving and enhancing the human brain.

Musk, who’s the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla as well as the founder of a tunneling venture called the Boring Company, doesn’t think small. Neuralink is no exception.

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White House AI plan pumps up partnerships

AI summit
White House technology official Michael Kratsios addresses scores of executives, experts and officials at a White House summit focusing on artificial intelligence in 2018. (White House OSTP Photo / Erik Jacobs)

The Trump administration is updating the Obama administration’s strategy for artificial intelligence to put more emphasis on public-private partnerships like the one forged this year by Amazon and the National Science Foundation.

Three years after the initial strategic plan for AI research and development was released, the update was issued online overnight. It makes tweaks in the seven policy priorities that were laid out in the waning days of the Obama White House, and adds public-private partnerships as an eighth priority.

The R&D strategy is part of a broader set of policies known as the American AI Initiative, which was the subject of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in February.

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Alexa is learning to juggle multiple AI skills

Rohit Prasad
Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s vice president and head scientist for Alexa, explains how the virtual assistant can plan different activities for a night out. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

LAS VEGAS — Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant will soon get savvier about juggling its thousands of skills — starting with arranging all the elements for a night out.

Cross-skill action prediction is one of the upgrades for Alexa announced here today at Amazon’s re:MARS conference.

Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s vice president and head scientist for Alexa, laid out a scenario where a user of Echo Show could engage in a seamless dialogue to choose a showing of “Dark Phoenix,” reserve seats through Atom Tickets, find a nice Chinese restaurant nearby, make a dinner reservation through Open Table, set up an Uber ride and watch a movie trailer.

“We’ll be bringing this experience to our customers soon,” Prasad said during today’s morning keynote.

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Jeff Bezos gets a kick out of robotic arms

Jeff Bezos with robotic arms
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos raises his arms (and the robotic arms they’re linked to) at the re:MARS conference in Las Vegas. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

LAS VEGAS — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ handshake is at least as firm as a robotic hand’s grip.

I found that out for myself today at Amazon’s inaugural re:MARS conference, when Bezos tried out the touch-sensitive, dexterous robotic arm set up in an exhibit hall at the Aria Resort and Casino here in Las Vegas.

Like the annual invitation-only MARS conference, re:MARS is designed to focus on the frontiers of Machine learning, Automation, Robotics and Space. And robots were the stars of the show when Bezos popped in.

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Amazon unveils two new breeds of robots

Brad Porter
Brad Porter, vice president of robotics at Amazon, introduces new breeds of robots at the re:MARS conference in Las Vegas. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

LAS VEGAS — Amazon says there are now 200,000 robots working alongside 300,000 people at its distribution facilities around the world, and there’s more to come.

Brad Porter, vice president of robotics at Amazon, took the virtual wraps off two new types of robots during today’s keynote session at the first-ever re:MARS conference here in Las Vegas.

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