Self-driving cars have logged two million miles on public roads so far. The car industry is marching to the cusp of revolutionary change of how people interact with vehicles and the future design of roads and cities. The Google self-driving carproject starts with this vision: “Imagine if everyone could get around easily and safely, regardless of their ability to drive.” This vision inspires and excites me to the point that I think about it on my daily commute. I ask myself if we are closer to solving the traffic gridlock once and for all. Artificial Intelligence (AI) , which programs these cars, drives the cars much smarter than people, making the aging population more independent, decreasing the time spent commuting, and decreasing traffic accidents from 1.2 million accidents worldwide every year to the minimum. Self-driving cars are equipped with sensors capable of detecting far object as far away as two football fields in all directions. The AI of the self-driving cars detect pedestrians, cyclists, other cars, even artifacts in the road as well as birds. What is wonderful is that AI driving eliminates one of the greatest threats to safe driving: the problem of distracted driving due to cell phones and other devices.
The second front of AI is AI driven drones. Drones are making such an impact that Amazon and other companies are thinking of using them for everything from mail delivery monitoring borders, keeping short communications in very remote places to inspecting farms for food safety violations.
Recently, mini drones hit the market with a big splash. The Black Hornet mini drone, (around 18 grams) equipped with three cameras, designed by a Norway-based firm Prox Dynamics, can even fit in the palm of your hand. The drone has a range less than a mile (0.6 miles) making it perfect for stealth surveillance. In fact, the Black Hornet is a part of the British military since 2013. The US military is designing swarms of mini drones ready to be dropped from airplanes. These mini drones are called Cicadas (short for the Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft), and they fly without an engine with only 10 parts, and they function as a plane glider with complete silence. In a test conducted in Yuma, Arizona, the Cicadas dropped from 57,000 feet fell for 11 miles reaching their target within 15 feet. The Cicadas are so futuristic that it is hard not to be impressed with the technology.
AI has started making big strides in medicine as well. The Watson machine (an AI-driven machine) is now used in medical diagnoses of cancer patients. It is used to learn all the scientific peer-reviewed publications. It took us around 40 years to calculate the number of neurological activities of one millimeter of roundworm which has 302 neurons and 8,000 synapses. When our work comes to the human brain which has 86 billion neurons and up to 150 trillion synapses, AI for sure will decrease the time to map the human brain, but this will not happen for five or even ten years.
Having said that, the US Federal government launched a Brain Initiative (moonshot initiative) in 2013 with more than $300 million in funding on top of the $100 million the administration pledged to the project as well as the backing from private partners like Google. The initiative focuses on treating major diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Depression, and traumatic brain injury with the full goal of treating many diseases with the help of AI.
AI advances so much that Dr. Max Tegmark from Massachusetts Institute of Technology established The Future of Life Institute in 2014 to explore the dark side of AI. AI — if misused — could bring the destruction to humanity. Lately, Elon Musk donated 10 million dollars to the institute. Well-known luminaries, such as Bill Gates, Stephen Hawkings, Steve Wozniak as well as hundreds of others, have sounded the alarm on the potential dangerous consequences of AI.
As AI is advancing rapidly, restraining controls should be placed to make sure that the technology will not be misused.
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