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Inside AI (Dec 28th, 2018)

Happy Holidays! This end of year recap is presented in partnership with Owl Labs, makers of the Meeting Owl smart 360° conferencing camera. A great way to support the work we do on this newsletter is to check out the Meeting Owl. (Also, you can use code INSIDE for $100 off a Meeting Owl Pro Kit)


It's been a pleasure to curate the AI news for you. As we head into the new year, I pulled together a retrospective with 25 of the big stories from 2018 — which was a tough prospect, because there was a lot of important news this year. Two questions for you:

  1. What do you think was the most under-covered story or trend in AI this year?
  2. How can we make this newsletter even more valuable to you in 2019?

Hit reply and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading,

— Deb Dion Kees

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1. The EU's General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) were passed this year, mandating data privacy and transparency about how systems make decisions. Some people argued about the trade-off between performance of complex systems and explainability, and IBM proposed a "Suppliers Declaration of Conformity" (SDoC) to ensure that systems are transparent and unbiased. — TECHCRUNCH

2. Deepfakes, images or video-enhanced using AI, are improving to the point where they are difficult to detect. Scientists in Germany, France, the U.K., and the U.S. developed a neural network to transfer the head poses, facial expressions, and eye motions/blinks of a person in one video onto another person in a separate video. — ENGADGET

3. Google canceled its controversial Pentagon contract, Project Maven, after employees protested the use of AI for weaponry. Military contracts continued to dominate headlines, with the largest tech companies except Google vying for the $10 billion JEDI (Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative) Department of Defense contract. — WIRED

4. Earlier this year, researchers boycotted Nature's new machine intelligence journal. More than 2,000 scientists from Google, Facebook, DeepMind, and Microsoft pledged not to submit to or review work in the publication because the research is not open access. — FORBES

5. The AI "arms race" between China and the U.S. escalated this year, with both countries developing national strategies and funding the technology. Kai-Fu Lee wrote a book naming China and Silicon Valley as the "superpowers" helping to create a new world order. — THE WASHINGTON POST

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Meet the Owl featured in This Week in Startups 2018 Year in Review

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6. CIMON, the first AI space robot, made its debut at the International Space Station. The robot caught a ride on a SpaceX rocket in June and was switched on at the end of November. — AI NEWS

7. OpenAI created a team of five bots that can collaborate and cooperate as they play Dota2. The OpenAI Five team won several matches against human teams but ultimately lost in the pro tournament. OpenAI also gave one of its agents a sense of "curiosity," allowing it to outperform conventional RL agents at the Montezuma's Revenge. — ENGADGET

8. AI is increasingly being used for surveillance. News this year included the AI cameras used to catch shoplifters in Japan, AI gun detection and security robots in the U.S., AI lie detection for border control in the EU, and facial recognition cameras in China. — TECHNOLOGY REVIEW

9. Xinhua, China's state-run press agency, introduced the first AI news anchors. The English and Chinese anchors were created and animated using AI technology, but the news they deliver is curated and produced by humans. — THE VERGE

10. The first completely autonomous AI diagnostic tool was approved by the FDA. The IDx-DR is used to detect diabetic retinopathy without needing the input of a human practitioner. AI is also being tested as a diagnostic tool for other conditions such as Alzheimer's. — THE REGISTER

11. 2018 was a big year for AI-generated art. Scientists produced an AICAN adversarial network to create paintings, AI generated a self-portrait, and one painting created by an AI arts collective fetched $16,000 at a Christie's auction. — FAST COMPANY

12. Researchers from GoogleMind, Google Brain, MIT, and the University of Edinburgh published a paper addressing the shortcomings of machine learning. The technique uses network graphs to help a system generalize from one type of problem to another. — ZDNET

13. AI is being used for recruiting by ZipRecruiter and IBM, and even for conducting interviews. Graduates in the U.K. are spending thousands of dollars to be coached on how to perform well in an interview where AI is used to scan for emotions. — EVENING STANDARD

14. MIT is launching a college devoted to AI. The $1 billion initiative will be called the Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. — THE VERGE

15. The preeminent global AI conference changed its controversial name this year. The former name, NIPS, was criticized for being sexist, and the conference is now called NeurIPS. — GIZMODO

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16. Researchers have developed AI to manipulate images in several different ways. MIT has a program that can erase objects from a photo, DeepMind has a neural network that can render a 3D view from a different vantage point based on a single 2D image, and most recently MIT developed a neural network to distinguish objects hidden in the dark. — ENGADGET

17. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a multi-million dollar program to fund state-of-the-art AI research. The Artificial Intelligence Exploration (AIE) program awards up to $1 million for each project. — FORBES 

18. Google launched the first of its AutoML tools, enabling customers to develop machine learning models for image and object recognition without having coding expertise. The AutoML Vision tool is a part of Google's Cloud AutoML initiative. — THE VERGE

19. New AI tools including Claudette and LawGeex are being used to analyze legal documents to aid lawyers. The Library Innovation Lab at the Harvard Law School Library also created an open-access dataset of more than 6.5 million U.S. court cases to help train AI systems for legal applications. — TECHNOLOGY REVIEW

20. AI is being used to generate copywriting for marketers. Alibaba launched an AI copywriting tool in July and Phrasee is a U.K.-based startup that brought its AI copywriting platform to the U.S. this year. — THE TELEGRAPH

21. IBM unveiled its Project Debater technology this summer. The AI system was able to successfully engage in an actual debate against human opponents, with no prior knowledge of the debate topic. — THE VERGE

22. The AI-powered international equity ETF (exchange traded fund) debuted in June. EquBot created both the international ETF (AIIQ) as well as a national AI-powered ETF (AIEQ); both funds use AI technology to pick stocks and both run on IBM's Watson platform. — BLOOMBERG

23. Engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee unveiled Summit, the world's fastest supercomputer, which is tailored for AI use. Summit's computing power is 60 percent faster than that of China’s Sunway TaihuLight, which has been the fastest supercomputer in the world since 2013. — TECHNOLOGY REVIEW

24. In May, Google revealed its Duplex AI system, which performs real tasks over the phone such as booking an appointment or making a reservation. The system's conversation skills are so real-sounding that the company is ensuring that the system will identify itself as an AI to other callers. The technology is being launched to select Pixel phone users. — ENGADGET 

25. Baidu developed a real-time translation tool that can translate English, Chinese, and German. Baidu's tool comes a year after its rival Google introduced Pixel Buds, wireless headphones that can perform live translation. — CNBC

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Written and curated by Deb Dion Kees, a writer, editor, and publisher based in Telluride, Colorado. Kees is a lover of science, technology, skiing, and adventure, and does her best work using a mobile hotspot to write from her Ford camper van office.

Editing team: Lon Harris (editor-in-chief at, game-master at Screen Junkies), Krystle Vermes (Breaking news editor at Inside, B2B marketing news reporter, host of the "All Day Paranormal" podcast), and Susmita Baral (editor at Inside, recent bylines in NatGeo, Teen Vogue, and Quartz. Runs the biggest mac and cheese account on Instagram).

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