Most recently, AI rose to meet Darpa’s Grand Challenge of creating a robot car that could drive itself along a desert road to a specific destination. Sebastian Thrun, leader of the Stanford University team that built Stanley (which won the 300-mile race and was named best robot ever by Wired magazine), envisions a future where cars will drive themselves, eliminating crashes and freeing up their passengers to pursue more productive activities than road rage.
“Certainly I was happy that we had won, but I was even happier that five other teams had finished. I think it shows that what Darpa had thought to be a real challenge was actually really possible,” said Thrun.
So while AI hasn’t put a robot in every household, the field has made strides, which makes room for speculation about the future.
If the rate of computational power grows exponentially, the possibilities of true artificial intelligence, as seen in movies like The Terminator and I, Robot, could be possible very soon, said Kurzweil.
He pictures a world where humans and machines have merged, enhancing our cognitive abilities and keeping our bodies healthy from the inside.
“It’s not a human civilization and a machine civilization competing with each other,” Kurzweil said. “It’s a human-machine civilization that’s already merged, and that merger is going to get more intimate.”
Thrun, who will be giving a keynote address on winning the Darpa Grand Challenge, says the first 50 years of AI is just the prologue. “I think 200 years from now we are going to smile back and think of this era as blind and stumbling people who were trying to make progress but didn’t know where to poke,” he said.
Also see This Computer May Be Too Smart, about a computer that can analyze facial expressions to read their mood.
“NEUROMARKETING.” Robinson also has gotten inquiries from online retailers and computer service providers, such as IBM, who envision tailoring their products to the emotional state of consumers. While surfing the Web, for instance, your computer could determine if you liked certain products and then modify content to your individual tastes or alter advertising to fit your mood.
The use of Robinson’s emotionally aware technology to improve company sales represents the latest advance in neuromarketing—the study of the brain’s response to marketing to measure consumer preferences. “Neuromarketing can help predict what products people are going to choose,” said Dr. Gemma Calvert, director of Neurosense, a British consulting firm.
Another application for the mind-reading computer is as an “emotional hearing aid” to help people with autism and Asperger syndrome, who have difficulty reading others’ emotions. Robinson’s MIT partners are designing a prototype headset that informs the wearer of people’s moods, and are currently improving its accuracy by recording individuals’ reactions to everyday events.