With learning robots and emotional computers, AI becomes real

With learning robots and emotional computers, AI becomes real

The robotic cockroach was called Zeus, and it came into the world knowing only two things. First, it hated light. Second, it could move its body—though it didn’t know how, or what parts it had.

Within five minutes, Zeus had learned to walk. Within 15, it could walk backward. The little robot, searching for darkness, learned that backing up is sometimes more efficient than making a forward turn.

Zeus’ tiny steps backward were an enormous step forward for its creator, James Crowder, one of Raytheon’s experts in the field of artificial intelligence. Their work in creating things that think, learn and reason includes mechanical versions of insects and octopuses, simulated emotions, cultural coaches and computerized versions of schoolteachers.

This all comes as the United States military looks for innovation in artificial intelligence as part of its plan to find new ways of pairing humans and machines.

Thinking at the speed of light

Artificial intelligence is part of the Department of Defense’s “third-offset” strategy, a plan to give the United States military strong advantages that would deter enemies from attacking.

Smart machines that “operate at the speed of light” could help troops make better battlefield decisions, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said during a discussion of the third offset strategy at the Reagan National Defense Forum.

“So when you’re operating against a cyber attack or an electronic warfare attack or attacks against your space architecture or missiles that are coming, screaming in at you at Mach 6,” Work said, “you’re going to have to have a learning machine that helps you solve that problem right away.”

The advent of AI could change the way vehicles are designed, how pilots fly and how battlefield information is delivered, said Paul Scharre, a former U.S. Army Ranger and now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

Starting simple

Artificial intelligence takes many forms—the classic chess-playing robot, the smartphone personal assistant, and in Crowder’s case, the cockroach.

He knew if he were ever going to build a machine of true artificial intelligence—“a fully thinking, reasoning, intelligent, autonomous system”—he would have to start simple.

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