MIT trolls Donald Trump over airplane tweets

Donald Trump and Air Force One
President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One during a visit to Key West, Fla., in 2018. (White House Photo)

In the wake of March 10’s fatal Boeing 737 MAX airplane crash in Ethiopia, President Donald Trump took computer scientists to task today for making airplanes “too complex to fly.” And the computer scientists struck back.

It all took place on Twitter, of course.

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Vision-free robot feels its way through the dark

Cheetah 3 robot
The vision-free version of MIT’s Cheetah 3 robot can jump onto a 30-inch-high tabletop. (MIT via YouTube)

Boston Dynamics’ scary-smart robots make use of sophisticated computer vision, but MIT is following a different strategy with its Cheetah 3 robot.

The vision-free version of MIT’s 80-pound, Labrador-sized Cheetah 3 can find its way across a pitch-black room and up an obstacle-littered stairway without the use of cameras or environmental sensors. Instead, it relies on what engineers call “blind locomotion” — that is, the feedback from its robotic legs and its algorithm-based sense of balance as it scrambles through the dark.

“There are many unexpected behaviors the robot should be able to handle without relying too much on vision,” designer Sangbae Kim, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, said today in a news release.

“Vision can be noisy, slightly inaccurate, and sometimes not available, and if you rely too much on vision, your robot has to be very accurate in position and eventually will be slow,” Kim said. “So we want the robot to rely more on tactile information. That way, it can handle unexpected obstacles while moving fast.”

The strategy is well-suited for getting around disaster zones or other risky environments.

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Worried about fake news? Get set for fake humans

Chatbot discussion
Speakers at a Seattle University event organized by the MIT Enterprise Forum Northwest discuss human-machine interaction with a word cloud displayed on the screen behind them. The words were provided by the audience to answer a question: “What scares you the most about technology?” (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

We have heard the voice of our future AI overlord — and it’s making hair appointments for us.

Last week, Google wowed the world by demonstrating a voice assistant called Duplex that sounds eerily human on the telephone, right down the um’s and mm-hmm’s that it uses during its chat with a scheduler at a hair salon.

Some are now questioning how true-to-life the demo actually was. But even if some liberties were taken, Google Duplex was an eye-opener for experts who gathered at Seattle University on Wednesday night for an AI-centric event presented by MIT Enterprise Forum Northwest.

“Seeing that happen so quickly, I think, was a real shock for some people,” said Kat Holmes, a Microsoft veteran who’s the founder of the design company Kata and the author of “Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design.”

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MIT and a startup join the commercial fusion race

SPARC fusion reactor
An artist’s conception shows the proposed SPARC tokamak experiment. Using high-field magnets built with high-temperature superconductors, this experiment could be the first controlled fusion plasma to produce net energy output. (MIT PSFC Illustration / Ken Filar)

A new entrant in the race to commercialize fusion energy, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, aims to capitalize on superconductor technology from MIT and $50 million from the Italian energy company Eni.

The collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Commonwealth Fusion, an MIT spinout based in Cambridge, Mass., came to light today after years of work behind the scenes.

“This is an important historical moment: Advances in superconducting magnets have put fusion energy potentially within reach, offering the prospect of a safe, carbon-free energy future,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in a news release.

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IBM and MIT partner up to boost AI research

Image: IBM Watson
IBM’s Watson AI software is best-known for winning at “Jeopardy!” in 2011. (Credit: IBM)

IBM is making a 10-year, $240 million investment in artificial intelligence research through a new lab it’s creating in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The investment will support research by IBM and MIT scientists at the newly created MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab in Cambridge, Mass., the two partners announced today.

“Through this collaboration, we will target innovations that will move us beyond specialized tasks to more general approaches to solving more complex problems, with the added capability of robust, continuous learning,” Dario Gil, IBM Research’s vice president of AI and IBM Q, said in a blog post.

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