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What Is Artificial Intelligence?

When most people think of artificial intelligence (AI) they think of HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Data from “Star Trek,” or more recently, the android Ava from “Ex Machina.” But to a computer scientist that isn’t what AI necessarily is, and the question “what is AI?” can be a complicated one.

One of the standard textbooks in the field, by University of California computer scientists Stuart Russell and Google’s director of research, Peter Norvig, puts artificial intelligence in to four broad categories:

The differences between them can be subtle, notes Ernest Davis, a professor of computer science at New York University. AlphaGo, the computer program that beat a world champion at Go, acts rationally when it plays the game (it plays to win). But it doesn’t necessarily think the way a human being does, though it engages in some of the same pattern-recognition tasks. Similarly, a machine that acts like a human doesn’t necessarily bear much resemblance to people in the way it processes information.
The issue is that much of “common sense” is very hard to model. Computer scientists have taken several approaches to get around that problem. IBM’s Watson, for instance, was able to do so well on Jeopardy! because it had a huge database of knowledge to work with and a few rules to string words together to make questions and answers. Watson, though, would have a difficult time with a simple open-ended conversation.

Beyond tasks, though, is the issue of learning. Machines can learn, said Kathleen McKeown, a professor of computer science at Columbia University. “Machine learning is a kind of AI,” she said.

Some machine learning works in a way similar to the way people do it, she noted. Google Translate, for example, uses a large corpus of text in a given language to translate to another language, a statistical process that doesn’t involve looking for the “meaning” of words. Humans, she said, do something similar, in that we learn languages by seeing lots of examples.

That said, Google Translate doesn’t always get it right, precisely because it doesn’t seek meaning and can sometimes be fooled by synonyms or differing connotations.

Quantum Computer Could Simulate Beginnings of the Universe

Quantum mechanics suggest that seemingly empty space is actually filled with ghostly particles that are fluctuating in and out of existence. And now, scientists have for the first time made an advanced machine known as a quantum computer simulate these so-called virtual particles.

This research could help shed light on currently hidden aspects of the universe, from the hearts of neutron stars to the very first moments of the universe after the Big Bang, researchers said.

Quantum mechanics suggests that the universe is a fuzzy, surreal place at its smallest levels. For instance, atoms and other particles can exist in states of flux known as superpositions, where they can seemingly each spin in opposite directions simultaneously, and they can also get entangled — meaning they can influence each other instantaneously no matter how far apart they are separated. Quantum mechanics also suggests that pairs of virtual particles, each consisting of a particle and its antiparticle, can wink in and out of seemingly empty vacuum and influence their surroundings.
Quantum mechanics underlies the standard model of particle physics, which is currently the best explanation for how all the known elementary particles, such as electrons and protons, behave. However, there are still many open questions regarding the standard model of particle physics, such as whether or not it can help explain cosmic mysteries such as dark matter and dark energy — both of which have not been directly detected by astronomers, but are inferred based on their gravitational effects.

The interactions between elementary particles are often described with what is known as gauge theories. However, the real-time dynamics of particles in gauge theories are extremely difficult for conventional computers to compute, except in the simplest of cases. As a result, scientists have instead turned to experimental devices known as quantum computers.

“Our work is a first step towards developing dedicated tools that can help us to gain a better understanding of the fundamental interactions between the elementary constituents in nature,” study co-lead author Christine Muschik told Live Science. Muschik is a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Innsbruck, Austria.

Whereas classical computers represent data as ones and zeroes — binary digits known as “bits,” symbolized by flicking switch-like transistors either on or off — quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, that are in superpositions — meaning that they are on and off at the same time. This enables a qubit to carry out two calculations simultaneously. In principle, quantum computers could work much faster than regular computers at solving certain problems because the quantum machines can analyze every possible solution at once.

In their new study, scientists built a quantum computer using four electromagnetically trapped calcium ions. They controlled and manipulated these four qubits with laser pulses.

The researchers had their quantum computer simulate the appearance and disappearance of virtual particles in a vacuum, with pairs of qubits representing pairs of virtual particles — specifically, electrons and positrons, the positively charged antimatter counterparts of electrons. Laser pulses helped simulate how powerful electromagnetic fields in a vacuum can generate virtual particles, the scientists said.

“This is one of the most complex experiments that has ever been carried out in a trapped-ion quantum computer,” study co-author Rainer Blatt, an experimental physicist at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Innsbruck, Austria, said in a statement.

This work shows that quantum computers can simulate high-energy physics — showing how particles might behave at energy levels that are much too high to be easily generated on Earth. “The field of experimental quantum computing is growing very fast, and many people ask the question, What is a small-scale quantum computer good for?” study co-lead author Esteban Martinez, an experimental physicist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, told Live Science. “Unlike other applications, you don’t need millions of quantum bits to do these simulations — tens might be enough to tackle problems that we cannot yet attack using classical approaches.” [Big Bang to Civilization: 10 Amazing Origin Events]

The problem the researchers had their quantum simulator analyze was simple enough for classical computers to compute, which showed that the quantum simulator’s results matched predictions with great accuracy. This suggests that quantum simulators could be used on more complex gauge-theory problems in the future, and the machines could even see new phenomena.

“Our proof-of-principle experiment represents a first step toward the long-term goal of developing future generations of quantum simulators that will be able to address questions that cannot be answered otherwise,” Muschik said.

In principle, desktop quantum simulators could help model the kind of extraordinarily high-energy physics currently studied using expensive atom smashers, such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

“These two approaches complement one another perfectly,” study co-author Peter Zoller, a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Innsbruck, said in a statement. “We cannot replace the experiments that are done with particle colliders. However, by developing quantum simulators, we may be able to understand these experiments better one day.”

“Moreover, we can study new processes by using quantum simulation — for example, in our experiment, we also investigated particle entanglement produced during pair creation, which is not possible in a particle collider,” Blatt said in a statement.

Ultimately, quantum simulators may help researchers simulate the dynamics within the dead stars known as neutron stars, or investigate “questions relating to interactions at very high energies and high densities describing early-universe physics,” Muschik said.

The scientists detailed their findings in the June 23 issue of the journal Nature.

GoPro’s Latest VR Video Lets You Swim with Sharks

GoPro’s latest virtual reality video experience is just in time for Shark Week. But if you ask professional adventurer Jeb Corliss, he’ll tell you it’s just in time for sharks.

Each year, 100 million sharks are killed, many of them illegally. Misunderstandings perpetuated by hyped-up “mockumentaries” and movies such as Jaws or The Shallows, instill the kind of fear and apathy that justifies the deaths. Those attitudes are sending sharks into extinction, says Corliss.
But GoPro’s VR video, Diving with Sharks, the Truth Below the Surface, which features Corliss and shark expert and conservationist Jim Abernethy diving with hammerheads, lemon sharks, and Caribbean reef sharks in the Bahamas could help change attitudes.

“Diving with sharks is perceived as stunt,” Matthew Reyes, strategic content manager at GoPro told DNews. “But by no means. These sharks have personalities; they are not man-eaters. How do we offset that?”

The video, which is also available here, opens with a night dive, where sharks emerge suddenly from a pitch black sea into a globe of light. Over the exaggerated exhales of a person (you) breathing through a regulator, another diver’s hollow voice says, “Eyes open, look to your left” and then, “Shark coming in from the right side.” The music quickens.

RELATED: Why Sharks Are in Double Jeopardy

And then its daybreak on the bow of boat moving out to sea. Corliss’s voice narrates, “We fear what we don’t understand.”

Corliss, better known for his sky diving, BASE jumping, and wing suit exploits — including a recent wing suit flight over the Great Wall of China — has been diving with sharks for 24 years.

He was 16 years old the first time he did it and he went in expecting what many people expect.

“I had a preconceived idea that is was going to be a super-high-energy, terrifying thing,” he said. But when he got into the water, it was the opposite. The animals were peaceful, calm, docile. Corliss felt a serenity he hadn’t expected.

“The most striking thing for me was how scared they were,” he said. “They don’t want to get close to you. You cannot be scared of something that’s so terrified of you.”

More recently, while planning a trip with Jim Abernethy to film sharks, Corliss got the idea to contact his sponsor GoPro about creating a VR experience.

“We wanted to show people what it was really like to go on a dive with sharks,” Corliss said.

RELATED: FItbit-Like Tag Tracks Sharks After Catch-and-Release

GoPro’s video channel on Facebook features several thrilling VR videos, from surfing to skiing to wing suit flying. But you’ll also find ones where you can interact with rhinos and Sequoia trees.

Corliss says, “GoPro has a heart. What they have been doing for wildlife is beautiful.”

To film the dive in 360-degree footage, GoPro put their Omni multi-camera setup inside a housing called the Abyss, made by Kolor, a partner company. The Abyss has large dome ports that not only allow for wide views but also create pockets of air in front of the lenses. These air pockets make it possible to transition seamlessly between underwater shots and above-water shots without creating distortions in the image.

What the First Driverless Car Fatality Means for Self-Driving Tech

A crash that killed a driver in a Tesla Model S electric car in self-driving mode has called into question the safety of driverless vehicle technology. This week, federal officials announced the launch of a formal investigation into the accident.

The crash occurred on May 7 in Williston, Florida, when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla, and the car failed to apply the brakes, the New York Times reported. It is the first known fatal accident involving a self-driving vehicle.

In a statement from Tesla that was posted on the company’s blog Thursday (June 30), the automaker noted that the fatality was the first “in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated.”
“It is important to note that Tesla disables Autopilot by default and requires explicit acknowledgement that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled,” Tesla officials wrote.

The Model S is not a self-driving car, but Tesla’s Autopilot feature is an assistive technology and a first step in bringing truly driverless cars to market. By means of computer software, sensors, cameras and radar, the car’s Autopilot feature can complete tasks like merging onto a highway, the Atlantic reported. Drivers are instructed to keep their hands on the wheel while in Autopilot mode.

Tesla did not specify in their statement how engaged the driver was at the time of the crash, but did note that: “Neither autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”

Other companies, like General Motors and Google, have invested in the development of driverless car technology. In February one of Google’s self-driving cars crashed into a bus, though there were no reported injuries.

As tests on autonomous vehicles continue, the question is whether the technology has progressed to the point that the government would approve cars that can drive themselves.

In fact, a study published in October 2015 found that self-driving cars are more likely to be in an accident. The study, conducted by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, found that per million miles traveled, self-driving cars had a higher crash rate than traditional cars. At the time of the study, no self-driving cars had been found at fault for the crashes they were involved in.

There’s also a moral dilemma at play, as a driverless vehicle may have to decide which lives to save in the event of a serious accident. A recent study published in the journal Science found that people approve of autonomous vehicles (AV) governed by utilitarian ethics —minimizing the total number of deaths in a crash, even if people in the vehicle were harmed. However, most respondents would not want to ride in those vehicles themselves, Live Science reported.

“The moral dilemma for AV is something that is brand-new,” said study co-author Jean-François Bonnefon, a research director at the Toulouse School of Economics in France. “We’re talking about owning an object, which you interact with every day, knowing that this object might decide to kill you in certain situations.”

New Apple Ingredient Discovery Keeps Muscles Strong

Natural Component of Apple Peels Found To Help Prevent Muscle Weakening

In search of an effective method to prevent muscle wasting that comes with illness and aging, researchers have located a natural compound that is very promising.

The findings reported in the June issue of Cell Metabolism (a Cell Press publication), identify a natural component of apple peels known as Ursolic Acid as a promising newnutritional therapy for the widespread and debilitating condition that affects nearly everyone at one time or another.

“Muscle wasting is a frequent companion of illness and aging,” explained researchers from The University of Iowa, Iowa City. “It prolongs hospitalization, delays recoveries and in some cases prevents people going back home. It isn’t well understood and there is no medicine for it.”

The research team first looked at what happens to gene activity in muscles under conditions that promote weakening. Those studies turned up 63 genes that change in response to fasting in both people and mice and another 29 that shift their expression in the muscles of both people who are fasting and those with spinal cord injury. Comparison of those gene expression signatures to the signatures of cells treated with more than 1300 bio-active small molecules led them to ursolic acid as a compound with effects that might counteract those of atrophy.

“Ursolic Acid is an interesting natural compound,” they said. “It’s part of a normal diet as a component of apple peels. They always say that an apple a day keeps the doctor away…”

The researchers next gave Ursolic Acid to fasted laboratory subjects. Those experiments showed that ursolic acid could protect against muscle weakening as predicted. When ursolic acid was added to the food of normal subjects for a period of weeks, their muscles grew. Those effects were traced back to enhanced insulin signaling in muscle and to corrections in the gene signatures linked to atrophy.

The subjects given ursolic acid also became leaner and had lower blood levels of glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides. The findings therefore suggest that ursolic acid may be responsible for some of the overall benefits of healthy eating.

“We know if you eat a balanced diet like mom told us to eat you get this material,” the researchers explained “People who eat junk food don’t get this.”

It is not yet clear whether the findings will translate to human patients, but the goal now is to “figure out if this can help people.” If so, they don’t yet know whether Ursolic Acid at levels that might be consumed as part of a normal diet might or might not be enough.