AI News, DARPA to Tackle Ethics of Artificial Intelligence

New documentary Autonomy makes the convincing case that self-driving cars will change everything

Autonomy, a new documentary on self-driving cars directed by Alex Horwitz and produced by Car and Driver magazine, gets its most grievous sin out of the way in the first 15 minutes.

Autonomy, which had its world premiere here at SXSW in Austin this past week, is a comprehensive, thorough examination of the state of autonomous vehicles, and a vital bit of education for people who haven’t paid close attention to the technology’s slow, steady arrival.

Using Gladwell and the American love affair with cars as a springboard, Horwitz draws a clear line from the origins of the automobile all the way to the rise of artificial intelligence, the DARPA Grand Challenge that kick-started the modern autonomous revolution, and the current, albeit messy, partnership between Silicon Valley and the auto industry.

Even though it was produced by an American car magazine that’s very much invested in viewers owning combustion engines, Autonomy never veers into sensationalism or fear-mongering, even as it introduces muddy concepts like large-scale job loss and the innumerable deaths and injuries humans face on the road.

Complain once about how, like Uber and Lyft, rideshare companies have made mistakes in deploying hundreds of electric vehicles in cities that are unprepared to deal with them, and 10 people will happily line up to tell you that cars kill people, and the world would be better if they didn’t exist.

Or, similarly, express concern that testing self-driving automobiles on public roads will inevitably lead to traffic deaths, and proponents of the technology will rightly point out that it’s an inevitability, then wrongly insist the media shouldn’t cover those tests or those deaths.

(And tread carefully before ever wading into Elon Musk fandom.) But Autonomy takes very seriously the strong counterargument: future cars, and the largely positive social change that could arrive when they drive themselves, will create monumental ripple effects that we will need to carefully anticipate, recognize, and account for, as a society.

The auto industry is shifting away from a commercial venture that fetishizes car ownership as an identity, and moving toward a grander purpose: helping make cities more human-centric, giving senior citizens back their mobility, and literally saving lives.

The out-there AI ideas designed to keep the US ahead of China

This week, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) showcased projects that are part of a new five-year, $2 billion plan to foster the next round of out-there concepts that will bring about new advances in AI.

Speaking at the event, Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy at the White House, said the agency’s efforts are a key part of the government’s plan to stay ahead in AI.

“[It] is building on this success in artificial-intelligence research.” Since DARPA’s inception in 1957, it’s had something of a mixed track record, with many projects failing to deliver big breakthroughs.

“That’s why we’re looking at far forward challenges—challenges that might not come to fruition for a decade.” Through its AI Next program, DARPA has launched nine major research projects meant to tackle those limitations.

Giving AI a broader understanding of the world—something that humans take for granted—could eventually make personal assistants more helpful and easier to chat with, and it could help robots navigate unfamiliar environments.

An innovation in this area could knock out a key advantageof tech companies operating in China, for example, which thrive on their access to an abundance of data.

“Without DARPA coming in, [the self-driving-car boom] probably wouldn’t have happened at that scale at that time,” says Peter Stone, a professor at the University of Texas who took part in the car contest.

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