Sunday, March 8, 2015

Can An Artificial Intelligence Program Beat Us At Everything?

Even though Prof. Stephen Hawking had warned us about it back in December 2014, will artificial intelligence systems be better than us at everything? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Though it has yet to dethrone those classic rock gods in terms of composing the best songs, an artificial intelligence program recently managed to make itself master at playing classic 1980s era Atari computer games.  Researchers working for Google in London say they have developed an artificial intelligence system that has taught itself how to win at 1980s era computer games. The computer program, which is inspired by how the human brain works learned how to play 49 classic Atari games, in half the time, it was better than a professional human player. 

Google’s DeepMind team said this was the first time a system had learned how to master a wide range of complex tasks. The study is published in the journal Nature. Dr. Dennis Hassabis, DeepMind’s vice president of engineering showed the BBC’s Pallab Ghosh how the artificial intelligence program had taught itself to excel at classic Breakout – a 1980s era Atari game. 

While the warning issued by Prof. Stephen Hawking on artificial intelligence systems’ ability to destroy mankind speech back in December 2014 still on their minds, Google’s DeepMind team wants ethical guidelines on artificial intelligence development be put in place to avoid such fears.  Despite the potential risks, the promise posed by true artificial intelligence systems that could accurately model how our brain works is just too good not to pursue further. 

Can One Fly A Plane With Their Thoughts Alone?

Even though the technology is still at its proof of concept stage, can Tekever’s Brainflight someday allow pilots to fly aircraft via their thoughts alone? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Ricardo Mendes, COO of Portugal based drone specialists Tekever has now become the latest cause célèbre in the tech and aviation world for demonstrating a system that allows a pilot to control an unmanned drone in flight via their thoughts alone. Even though the technology is still at its proof of concept stage, Tekever’s Brainflight has practical implications that go beyond the drone and aviation world – it could make fully paralyzed individuals control their wheelchairs or personal computers / mobile smart-phones using their thoughts alone. But in the short-term, Tekever is eyeing to market their system that allows individuals with restricted movement to pilot a plane with the same ease as an able-bodied individual. 

In the long term, the firm said piloting of larger jets, such as cargo planes, could be controlled this way without the need of crew on board. However, one aviation expert – John Strickland, an independent aviation consultant based in London – recently told the BBC that the largely conservative civil aviation industry would be unlikely to adopt such technology due to the current perception of Tekever’s Brainflight that the civil aviation industry sees as potentially unsafe. Mr. Strickland said the airline industry was instead currently focusing its innovation efforts towards things like better aircraft construction materials and more economical engines. 

Drone specialists Tekever, which works with security firms, police forces and the military, adopted existing electroencephalography (EEG) technology so it could issue instructions to the software used to give the unmanned drone instructions reminiscent of those “neural interface control networks” featured in late 1990s era episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. EEG works by detecting activity in specific parts of the brain. After several months of training, “pilots” are said to be able to teach their brain how to think about moving a small circle on a computer screen either up or down, which in turn steers the drone left or right.  

“We believe that Brainflight represents the beginning of a tremendous step change in the aviation field, empowering pilots and de-risking missions and we’re looking forward to deliver these benefits to the market with highly innovative products.”- says Ricardo Mendes, chief operating officer of Tekever. However, similar neural interface control systems have origins that go back to the early 1970s. Back in 1974, a computer was hooked up to the human brain via an electroencephalography (EEG) electrode studded skull-cap as an interface by Lawrence Pinneo of Stanford Research Institute. 

Malawi: The Most Expensive Country To Own A Mobile Phone?

Despite having a significant portion of the country’s citizenry earning less than 2 US dollars a day, is Malawi the most expensive place on Earth to own a mobile phone? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Even though mobile phones and related devices had been recently dubbed as the most financially empowering telecommunications device of the last 25 years, it seems a tad hard using one – never mind improving your socio-economic status in the next few years - when you live in a part of the world when more than 50 percent of your monthly earnings will be spent just getting you online. Sadly, this represents the current reality of mobile phone services and other internet connected device users in the country of Malawi. 

One of the first things to strike a foreign visitor to the nation of Malawi is the huge number of adverts put up by mobile phone companies and internet service providers marketing their products and services. In fact a recent report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) says on average, Malawians spend more than 12 US dollars a month just to keep their mobile phones and other internet connected devices online. This represents 56.29 percent of the average earnings of a typical gainfully-employed Malawian, which is a premium in a part of the world where a significant number of the population earns on average less than 1 US dollars a day. 

Ben Chisonga, head of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MARCA) says “We are thinking of reducing the interconnection rates, which are about four cents per minute which we believe, is the highest in the continent.” which is seen by many as a move in the right direction. But at present, Malawi’s mobile phone subscribers currently complain of the lack of service quality and high mobile phone service fees. When it comes to the topic of expensive mobile phone services, Malawi is quite a contrast to Macau, China where it is dubbed by the International Telecommunications Union as the part of the world that is the lowest cost to own a mobile phone where only 0.11 percent of the average monthly earnings are spent on mobile phone service fees while providing world-class service quality.