You’ve heard of Smart Cars. Believe us, they get smarter.
No, we’re not talking about Kit, the wryly soft-spoken roadster from the ’80s TV show Knight Rider. Fully sentient robots like Kit are still a ways off, but computer programmers are starting to make serious progress in the horrendously complex art of artificial intelligence.
Sensible Machines, headquartered in Pittsburgh, makes hardware and software that turn machines into autonomous workhorses with their own sense of positioning, safety and situational awareness. One of its utility vehicles can carry 1,200 pounds and be taught to pick up, carry and unload heavy cargo. The vehicle has a built-in safety system that uses lasers and three-dimensional models of its surroundings to navigate obstacle-strewn warehouses.
Look around and you’ll find A.I. applications popping up in a rash of industries, making once labor-intensive tasks–everything from matching hungry shoppers with targeted advertisements to discharging patients from hospitals–far faster and cheaper. As the cost of computing power continues to fall, A.I. will play an ever larger role in society’s collective decision making. Here are just a few examples …
FlyRuby, headquartered in Pittsburgh, is bent on connecting all private charter flights within one computer network to fill open seats more efficiently and slash the price of private flying by half. FlyRuby’s A.I. technology came from an Air Force research initiative that produced a set of computer algorithms that can schedule more than 5,000 missions in less than 10 seconds, depending on the vagaries of weather and war.
Workstreamer, in Austin, Texas, harnessed the power of A.I. to monitor every last bit and byte of media on people and companies–from newspaper stories and blog posts to tweets, LinkedIn updates and Salesforce.com data. The software finds, sorts and scores data based on relevance. Higher scores mean the information is more important and it goes to the top of a readers’ virtual pile.
San Francisco’s Klout measures the influence of websites and individuals on the Internet. Its algorithms adjust to changing circumstances to analyze content and social patterns. Users can track their own Klout scores and determine what moves them up and down by what they do on the Web.
Siri is the brainchild of CALO, a $150 million artificial-intelligence project in Menlo Park, Calif., focused on building cognitive software systems that can follow orders, reason, learn, react, explain and reflect. Apple bought Siri (for an undisclosed sum) to let iPhone users make simple verbal commands–“Get a taxi to my house” or “Make a reservation at the best Italian restaurant in town”–and get results quickly. Siri interacts with existing programs on the Web and prompts users for additional input as needed, such as “Would you like to dine at Rosetti’s or The Olive Branch?”
Medical imaging helps doctors diagnose everything from breast cancer to brain tumors. Now comes A.I. The University of Chicago’s Department of Radiology is testing a method, called Computer Aided Diagnosis (CAD), where a computer corroborates or challenges a radiologist’s initial diagnosis. The computer combs images for suspicious regions and lesions while estimating the probability of each spot’s malignancy. “Image interpretation by humans can be limited by incomplete visual search patterns, the potential for fatigue and distractions and the presence of structure noise in the image,” says Chicago’s Dr. Maryellen L. Giger.
Knewton, a Manhattan test-prepatory outfit, has built the first adaptive-learning engine that can customize a series of practice tests aimed at the user’s weaknesses. The program first tracks every question and answer, then prioritizes concepts for study each day–all without a human tutor.
Targeted Ad-Delivery Systems
A shopper walks into Macy’s. As she heads down an aisle, she is bombarded with ads on screens eerily relevant to her demographic. Chalk up this accuracy to Northeastern University Professor W. Russell Penn’s facial-recognition technology. By scanning a person’s face, the software determines gender and age; the system can also detect if your shoppers wear glasses, if they’re smiling and what kind of fashion sense and hairstyle they have–all useful information to advertisers.
Timothy Bickmore, a computer science professor at Northeastern University, has created a virtual nurse named Louise who talks patients through the discharge process and can tell if they are correctly absorbing medical instructions. Louise is the work of Bickmore, MIT and the Boston Medical Center. Her skill in reading faces for clues is a huge breakthrough, says Dr. Brian Jack of the Boston Medical Center. Jack says that 20% of discharged patients show up at the hospital within a month because they misunderstood the directions.
At Carnegie Mellon University, Professor Alex Waibel launched a company called Jibbigo, maker of an iPhone app that provides real-time speech translation in Spanish, Japanese and Iraqi Arabic (important to the military), among others. (Translations can be done from these languages into English or the other way around.) Such highly intelligent speech-recognition technology promises to make the world a much smaller place.
(Really) Smart Cars
Pittsburgh’s Sensible Machines makes hardware and software that turn machines into autonomous workhorses with their own sense of positioning, safety and situational awareness. One of its utility vehicles can carry 1,200 pounds and be taught to pick up, carry and unload heavy cargo. The vehicle has a built-in safety system that uses lasers and three-dimensional models of its surroundings to navigate obstacle-strewn warehouses.
Ford Motor Company is building artificial intelligence into its interior design program using technology developed for the Department of Defense and the University of Iowa’s Virtual Soldier Program. The software simulates motion and provides feedback on forces against the human body. Ford engineers use it to confirm that drivers can comfortably reach most controls while maintaining a proper driving position. An avatar named Santos acts as the passenger; if Santos is comfortable with the design, so are Ford’s engineers.