Machine Learning Spots Treasure Trove of Elusive Viruses ( 28

Artificial intelligence could speed up metagenomic studies that look for species unknown to science. From a report: Researchers have used artificial intelligence (AI) to discover nearly 6,000 previously unknown species of virus. The work illustrates an emerging tool for exploring the enormous, largely unknown diversity of viruses on Earth. Although viruses influence everything from human health to the degradation of trash, they are hard to study. Scientists cannot grow most viruses in the lab, and attempts to identify their genetic sequences are often thwarted because their genomes are tiny and evolve fast.

For the latest study, Simon Roux, a computational biologist at the DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI) in Walnut Creek, California, trained computers to identify the genetic sequences of viruses from one unusual family, Inoviridae. These viruses live in bacteria and alter their host's behaviour: for instance, they make the bacteria that cause cholera, Vibrio cholerae, more toxic. But Roux, who presented his work at the meeting in San Francisco, California, organized by the JGI, estimates that fewer than 100 species had been identified before his research began. Roux presented a machine-learning algorithm with two sets of data -- one containing 805 genomic sequences from known Inoviridae, and another with about 2,000 sequences from bacteria and other types of virus -- so that the algorithm could find ways of distinguishing between them.


AI Can Diagnose Prostate Cancer As Well As a Pathologist ( 57

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Business: Chinese researchers have developed an artificial intelligence system which can diagnose cancerous prostate samples as accurately as any pathologist, holding out the possibility of streamlining and eliminating variation in the process of cancer diagnosis. The system may also help overcome shortages of trained pathologists and in the longer term lead to automated or partially-automated prostate diagnosis. Confirmation of a prostate cancer diagnosis normally requires a biopsy sample to be examined by a pathologist. Now the Chinese AI system has shown similar levels of accuracy to pathologists and can also accurately classify the level of malignancy of the cancer, eliminating the variability which can creep into human diagnoses. [Hongqian Guo, who led the research group] took 918 prostate samples from 283 patients and ran these through the AI system, with the software gradually learning and improving diagnosis. The pathology images were subdivided into 40,000 smaller samples of which 30,000 were used to train the software while the remaining 10,000 were used to test accuracy. The results showed an accurate diagnosis in 99.38 per cent of cases, using a human pathologist as a gold standard. Guo said that means the AI system is as accurate as a pathologist. The research was presented at the 33rd European Association of Urology Congress in Copenhagen.

IBM Unveils the 'World's Smallest Computer' ( 164

On the first day of IBM Think 2018, the company's flagship conference, IBM has unveiled what it claims is the world's smallest computer. It's smaller than a grain of salt and features the computer power of the x86 chip from 1990. Mashable first spotted this gem: The computer will cost less than ten cents to manufacture, and will also pack "several hundred thousand transistors," according to the company. These will allow it to "monitor, analyze, communicate, and even act on data." It works with blockchain. Specifically, this computer will be a data source for blockchain applications. It's intended to help track the shipment of goods and detect theft, fraud, and non-compliance. It can also do basic AI tasks, such as sorting the data it's given. According to IBM, this is only the beginning. "Within the next five years, cryptographic anchors -- such as ink dots or tiny computers smaller than a grain of salt -- will be embedded in everyday objects and devices," says IBM head of research Arvind Krishna. If he's correct, we'll see way more of these tiny systems in objects and devices in the years to come. It's not clear yet when this thing will be released -- IBM researchers are currently testing its first prototype.

Google Open Sources Its Exoplanet-Hunting AI ( 16

dmoberhaus writes: Last December, NASA announced that two new exoplanets had been hiding in plain sight among data from the Kepler space telescope. These two new planets weren't discovered by a human, however. Instead, an exoplanet hunting neural network -- a type of machine learning algorithm loosely modeled after the human brain -- had discovered the planets by finding subtle patterns in the Kepler data that would've been nearly impossible for a human to see. Last Thursday, Christopher Shallue, the lead Google engineer behind the exoplanet AI, announced in a blog post that the company was making the algorithm open source. In other words, anyone can download the code and help hunt for exoplanets in Kepler data.
Google's research blog called the December discovery "a successful proof-of-concept for using machine learning to discover exoplanets, and more generally another example of using machine learning to make meaningful gains in a variety of scientific disciplines (e.g. healthcare, quantum chemistry, and fusion research)."

Microsoft Announces Breakthrough In Chinese-To-English Machine Translation ( 72

A team of Microsoft researchers announced on Wednesday they've created the first machine translation system that's capable of translating news articles from Chinese to English with the same accuracy as a person. "The company says it's tested the system repeatedly on a sample of around 2,000 sentences from various online newspapers, comparing the result to a person's translation in the process -- and even hiring outside bilingual language consultants to further verify the machine's accuracy," reports TechCrunch. From the report: The sample set, called newstest2017, was released just last fall at the research conference WMT17. Deep neural networks, a method of training A.I. systems, allowed the researchers to create more fluent and natural-sounding translations that take into account broader context that the prior approaches, called statistical machine translation. Microsoft's researchers also added their own training methods to the system to improve its accuracy -- things they equate to how people go over their own work time and again to make sure it's right.

The researchers said they used methods including dual learning for fact-checking translations; deliberation networks, to repeat translations and refine them; and new techniques like joint training, to iteratively boost English-to-Chinese and Chinese-to-English translation systems; and agreement regularization, which can generate translations by reading sentences both left-to-right and right-to-left. Zhou said the techniques used to achieve the milestone won't be limited to machine translations. The researchers caution the system has not yet been tested on real-time news stories, and there are other challenges that still lie ahead before the technology could be commercialized into Microsoft's products.
You can play around with the new translation system here.

A Chatbot Can Now Offer You Protection Against Volatile Airline Prices ( 24

The same bot, DoNotPay, that helped users overturn parking tickets and sue Equifax for small sums of money is now offering you protection against volatile airline prices. The Verge reports: Joshua Browder, a junior at Stanford University, designed the new service on the bot in a few months, after experiencing rapidly fluctuating airline prices when flying to California during the wildfires last year. "It annoyed me that every single flight, I could be paying sometimes double or even triple the person next to me in the same type of seat," he told The Verge. Browder first used the service himself and then tested it among his friends in a closed beta. He claims that the average amount saved among the beta testers is $450 a year, though it's not clear how many flights were booked and how much they cost. The service is available to the public starting today. To use it, log in with a Google account, input your phone number, birthday, and credit card information through Stripe. (Browder swears the credit card information won't be stored.) Then the chatbot tells you you're all set. Now, every time you buy airline tickets, whether from an airline's site or a third party, the chatbot will help make sure you pay the lowest price for your class and seat.

Siri Co-founder is Surprised By How Much Siri Still Can't Do ( 86

In an interview with Quartz, Norman Winarsky, a founder of Siri, suggests that Apple may have given Siri an overly ambitious collection of responsibilities and hasn't made the feature reliable enough. From a report: And while vastly improved from its earliest days, Siri still isn't a sparkling conversationalist. "Surprise and delight is kind of missing right now," said Winarsky, now a consultant and venture capitalist. Winarsky acknowledges that some of this disappointment stems from the sheer difficulty of predicting the pace of major technological advancement, which Bill Gates once summed up as the human tendency to "overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10."

But part of it is also likely because Apple chose to take Siri in a very different direction than the one its founders envisioned. Pre-Apple, Winarsky said, Siri was intended to launch specifically as a travel and entertainment concierge. Were you to arrive at an airport to discover a cancelled flight, for example, Siri would already be searching for an alternate route home by the time you pulled your phone from your pocket -- and if none was available, would have a hotel room ready to book. It would have a smaller remit, but it would learn it flawlessly, and then gradually extend to related areas. "These are hard problems and when you're a company dealing with up to a billion people, the problems get harder yet," Winarsky said. "They're probably looking for a level of perfection they can't get."


Amazon's Alexa Is Coming To an Office Near You ( 74

Amazon announced today that it's bringing its voice assistant into a range of business settings, big and small, like hotels and co-working spaces. From a report: While people always think of Amazon as a consumer company, it has shown itself time and again to have larger ambitions. This move could help it expand tis business services beyond its already popular Amazon Web services. In an interview, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels said that exposure to the workplace will improve Alexa by exposing it to new types of conversations. "The kind of language we use in our offices is sometimes radically different from the more conversational things we do in our(homes)," he told Axios. Alexa "will greatly improve by being exposed to different kinds of statements or conversations."

Elon Musk: The Danger of AI is Much Greater Than Nuclear Warheads. We Need Regulatory Oversight Of AI Development. ( 322

Elon Musk has been vocal about the need for regulation for AI in the past. At SXSW on Sunday, Musk, 46, elaborated his thoughts. We're very close to seeing cutting edge technologies in AI, Musk said. "It scares the hell out of me," the Tesla and SpaceX showrunner said. He cited the example of AlphaGo and AlphaZero, and the rate of advancements they have shown to illustrate his point. He said: Alpha Zero can read the rules of any game and beat the human. For any game. Nobody expected that rate of improvement. If you ask those same experts who think AI is not progressing at the rate that I'm saying, I think you will find their betting average for things like Go and other AI advancements, is very weak. It's not good.

We will also see this with self driving. Probably by next year, self driving will encompass all forms of driving. By the end of next year, it will be at least 100 percent safer than humans. [...] The rate of improvements is really dramatic and we have to figure out some way to ensure that the advent of digital super intelligence is symbiotic with humanity. I think that's the single biggest existential crisis we face, and the most pressing one. I'm not generally an advocate of regulation -- I'm actually usually on the side of minimizing those things. But this is a case, where you have a very serious danger to the public. There needs to be a public body that has insight and oversight to ensure that everyone is developing AI safely. This is extremely important. The danger of AI is much greater than danger of nuclear warheads. By a lot.


Chinese Police Begin Tracking Citizens With Face-Recognizing Smart Glasses ( 112

An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: At a highway check point on the outskirts of Beijing, local police are this week testing out a new security tool: smart glasses that can pick up facial features and car registration plates, and match them in real-time with a database of suspects. The AI-powered glasses, made by LLVision, scan the faces of vehicle occupants and the plates, flagging with a red box and warning sign to the wearer when any match up with a centralized "blacklist".

The test -- which coincides with the annual meeting of China's parliament in central Beijing -- underscores a major push by China's leaders to leverage technology to boost security in the country... Wu Fei, chief executive of LLVision, said people should not be worried about privacy concerns because China's authorities were using the equipment for "noble causes", catching suspects and fugitives from the law. "We trust the government," he told Reuters at the company's headquarters in Beijing.

This weekend while China's President Xi Jinping is expected to push through a reform allowing him to stay in power indefinitely, Reuters reports that the Chinese goverment is pushing the use of cutting-edge technology "to track and control behavior that goes against the interests of the ruling Communist Party online and in the wider world... A key concern is that blacklists could include a wide range of people stretching from lawyers and artists to political dissidents, charity workers, journalists and rights activists...

"The new technologies range from police robots for crowd control, to drones to monitor border areas, and artificially intelligent systems to track and censor behavior online," Reuters reports, citing one Hong Kong researcher who argues that China now sees internet and communication technologies "as absolutely indispensable tools of social and political control."

China's Alibaba is Investing Huge Sums in AI Research and Resources -- and It Is Building Tools To Challenge Google and Amazon ( 30

Alibaba is already using AI and machine learning to optimize its supply chain, personalize recommendations, and build products like Tmall Genie, a home device similar to the Amazon Echo. China's two other tech supergiants, Tencent and Baidu, are likewise pouring money into AI research. The government plans to build an AI industry worth around $150 billion by 2030 and has called on the country's researchers to dominate the field by then. But Alibaba's ambition is to be the leader in providing cloud-based AI. From a report: Like cloud storage (think Dropbox) or cloud computing (Amazon Web Services), cloud AI will make powerful resources cheaply and readily available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection, enabling new kinds of businesses to grow. The real race in AI between China and the US, then, will be one between the two countries' big cloud companies, which will vie to be the provider of choice for companies and cities that want to make use of AI. And if Alibaba is anything to go by, China's tech giants are ready to compete with Google, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft to serve up AI on tap. Which company dominates this industry will have a huge say in how AI evolves and how it is used.

[...] There have been other glimpses of Alibaba's progress in AI lately. Last month a research team at the company released an AI program capable of reading a piece of text, and answering simple questions about that text, more accurately than anything ever built before. The text was in English, not Chinese, because the program was trained on the Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD), a benchmark used to test computerized question-and-answer systems. [...] One advantage China's tech companies have over their Western counterparts is the government's commitment to AI. Smart cities that use the kind of technology found in Shanghai's metro kiosks are likely to be in the country's future. One of Alibaba's cloud AI tools is a suite called City Brain, designed for tasks like managing traffic data and analyzing footage from city video cameras.


Why Humans Learn Faster Than AI ( 98

What is it about human learning that allows us to perform so well with relatively little experience? MIT Technology Review: Today we get an answer of sorts thanks to the work of Rachit Dubey and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley. They have studied the way humans interact with video games to find out what kind of prior knowledge we rely on to make sense of them. It turns out that humans use a wealth of background knowledge whenever we take on a new game. And this makes the games significantly easier to play. But faced with games that make no use of this knowledge, humans flounder, whereas machines plod along in exactly the same way. Take a look at the computer game shown here. This game is based on a classic called Montezuma's Revenge, originally released for the Atari 8-bit computer in 1984. There is no manual and no instructions; you aren't even told which "sprite" you control. And you get feedback only if you successfully finish the game.

Would you be able to do so? How long would it take? You can try it at this website. In all likelihood, the game will take you about a minute, and in the process you'll probably make about 3,000 keyboard actions. That's what Dubey and co found when they gave the game to 40 workers from Amazon's crowdsourcing site Mechanical Turk, who were offered $1 to finish it. "This is not overly surprising as one could easily guess that the game's goal is to move the robot sprite towards the princess by stepping on the brick-like objects and using ladders to reach the higher platforms while avoiding the angry pink and the fire objects," the researchers say. By contrast, the game is hard for machines: many standard deep-learning algorithms couldn't solve it at all, because there is no way for an algorithm to evaluate progress inside the game when feedback comes only from finishing.


Most Americans Think AI Will Destroy Other People's Jobs, Not Theirs ( 268

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of U.S. adults believe artificial intelligence will "eliminate more jobs than it creates," according to a Gallup survey. But, the same survey found that less than a quarter (23 percent) of people were "worried" or "very worried" automation would affect them personally. Notably, these figures vary depending on education. For respondents with only a four-year college degree or less, 28 percent were worried about AI taking their job; for people with at least a bachelor degree, that figure was 15 percent. These numbers tell a familiar story. They come from a Gallup survey of more than 3,000 individuals on automation and AI. New details were released this week, but they echo the findings of earlier reports. The newly released findings from Gallup's survey also show that by one measure, the use of AI is already widespread in the U.S. Nearly nine out of 10 Americans (85 percent) use at least one of six devices or services that use features of artificial intelligence, says Gallup. Eighty-four percent of people use navigation apps like Waze, and 72 percent use streaming services like Netflix. Forty-seven percent use digital assistants on their smartphones, and 22 percent use them on devices like Amazon's Echo.

Next Big Windows Update Will Bring Hardware-Accelerated AI ( 87

Mary Jo Foley, writing for ZDNet: Every tech vendor these days is quick to slap the AI label on products and services. Up until today, I thought Microsoft had done an admirable job in refraining from doing this with Windows. But the shark has been jumped as of March 7, the company's latest Windows Developer Day. Cue the eye rolls. Microsoft is telling developers that the next release of Windows 10, which we are still calling by its codename, "Redstone 4," will enable developers to "use AI to deliver more powerful and engaging experiences." Microsoft execs say there's now an AI platform in Windows 10 that enables developers to use "pre-trained machine learning in their apps on Windows 10 devices."

Amazon Admits Its AI Alexa is Creepily Laughing at People ( 170

Over the past few days, users with Alexa-enabled devices have reported hearing strange, unprompted laughter. The Verge: Amazon responded to the creepiness in a statement to The Verge, saying, "We're aware of this and working to fix it." As noted in media reports and a trending Twitter moment, Alexa laughs without being prompted to wake. People on Twitter and Reddit reported that they thought it was an actual person laughing near them, which can be scary when you're home alone. Many responded to the cackling sounds by unplugging their Alexa-enabled devices.

Google Is Helping the Pentagon Build AI for Drones ( 95

Google has partnered with the United States Department of Defense to help the agency develop artificial intelligence for analyzing drone footage, a move that set off a firestorm among employees of the technology giant when they learned of Google's involvement, Gizmodo reported on Tuesday. From the report: Google's pilot project with the Defense Department's Project Maven, an effort to identify objects in drone footage, has not been previously reported, but it was discussed widely within the company last week when information about the project was shared on an internal mailing list, according to sources who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the project. Some Google employees were outraged that the company would offer resources to the military for surveillance technology involved in drone operations, sources said, while others argued that the project raised important ethical questions about the development and use of machine learning.

Ubisoft is Using AI To Catch Bugs in Games Before Devs Make Them ( 126

AI has a new task: helping to keep the bugs out of video games. From a report: At the recent Ubisoft Developer Conference in Montreal, the French gaming company unveiled a new AI assistant for its developers. Dubbed Commit Assistant, the goal of the AI system is to catch bugs before they're ever committed into code, saving developers time and reducing the number of flaws that make it into a game before release. "I think like many good ideas, it's like 'how come we didn't think about that before?'," says Yves Jacquier, who heads up La Forge, Ubisoft's R&D division in Montreal. His department partners with local universities including McGill and Concordia to collaborate on research intended to advance the field of artificial intelligence as a whole, not just within the industry.

La Forge fed Commit Assistant with roughly ten years' worth of code from across Ubisoft's software library, allowing it to learn where mistakes have historically been made, reference any corrections that were applied, and predict when a coder may be about to write a similar bug. "It's all about comparing the lines of code we've created in the past, the bugs that were created in them, and the bugs that were corrected, and finding a way to make links [between them] to provide us with a super-AI for programmers," explains Jacquier.


Do Neural Nets Dream of Electric Sheep? ( 201

An anonymous reader shares a post: If you've been on the internet today, you've probably interacted with a neural network. They're a type of machine learning algorithm that's used for everything from language translation to finance modeling. One of their specialties is image recognition. Several companies -- including Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Facebook -- have their own algorithms for labeling photos. But image recognition algorithms can make really bizarre mistakes. Microsoft Azure's computer vision API added the above caption and tags. But there are no sheep in the image. None. I zoomed all the way in and inspected every speck. It also tagged sheep in this image. I happen to know there were sheep nearby. But none actually present. Here's one more example. In fact, the neural network hallucinated sheep every time it saw a landscape of this type. What's going on here?

Are neural networks just hyper-vigilant, finding sheep everywhere? No, as it turns out. They only see sheep where they expect to see them. They can find sheep easily in fields and mountainsides, but as soon as sheep start showing up in weird places, it becomes obvious how much the algorithms rely on guessing and probabilities. Bring sheep indoors, and they're labeled as cats. Pick up a sheep (or a goat) in your arms, and they're labeled as dogs.


Google's Slack Competitor 'Hangouts Chat' Comes Out of Beta ( 52

Frederic Lardinois reports via TechCrunch: Hangouts Chat, Google's take on modern workplace communication, is now generally available and is becoming a core part of G Suite. Hangouts Chat was first announced at Google Cloud Next 2017, together with Hangouts Meet. While Meet went right into public availability, though, Chat went into an invite-only preview. Now, Google is rolling Chat out to all G Suite users over the course of the next seven days (so if you don't see it yet, don't despair). For all intents and purposes, Hangouts Chat is Google's take on Slack, Microsoft Teams and similar projects. Since Google first announced this project, Atlassian also joined the fray with the launch of Stride. Like its competitors, Chat is available on iOS, Android and the web.

Chat currently supports 28 languages and each room can have up to 8,000 members. What's maybe just as important, though, is that Google has already built an ecosystem of partners that are integrating with Chat by offering their own bots. They include the likes of Xero, RingCentral, UberConference, Salesforce, Zenefits,, Jira, Trello, Wrike and Kayak. There's even a Giphy bot. Developers can also build their own bots and integrate their own services with Chat.


AI Cheats at Old Atari Games By Finding Unknown Bugs in the Code ( 45

An anonymous reader shares a report: AI research and video games are a match made in heaven. Researchers get a ready-made virtual environment with predefined goals they can control completely, and the AI agent gets to romp around without doing any damage. Sometimes, though, they do break things. Case in point is a paper published this week by a trio of machine learning researchers from the University of Freiburg in Germany. They were exploring a particular method of teaching AI agents to navigate video games (in this case, desktop ports of old Atari titles from the 1980s) when they discovered something odd. The software they were testing discovered a bug in the port of the retro video game Q*bert that allowed it to rack up near infinite points. As the trio describe in the paper, published on pre-print server arXiv, the agent was learning how to play Q*bert when it discovered an "interesting solution." Normally, in Q*bert, players jump from cube to cube, with this action changing the platforms' colors. Change all the colors (and dispatch some enemies), and you're rewarded with points and sent to the next level. The AI found a better way, though: "First, it completes the first level and then starts to jump from platform to platform in what seems to be a random manner. For a reason unknown to us, the game does not advance to the second round but the platforms start to blink and the agent quickly gains a huge amount of points (close to 1 million for our episode time limit)."

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