Inside AI - December 17th, 2019

Inside AI (Dec 17th, 2019)

Federal hearing on AI postponed / "The Elements of AI" course / AI Dungeon on iOS and Android


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1. A House committee hearing to explore uses of facial recognition technology – originally scheduled for this week – has been delayed until next year, lawmakers said. Politico reports that a bipartisan effort to explore federal use of the technology has been postponed because of impeachment proceedings, as well as the recent death of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who chaired the House Oversight and Investigations Committee. The panel's National Security Subcommittee pushed back this week's hearing, which was meant to explore the national security implications of facial recognition. It's one of the many efforts going on at the federal level to analyze and potentially limit how facial recognition is used in the U.S. - POLITICO

2. SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son believes Japan should make AI a mandatory subject in college entrance exams. Speaking at a government conference in Tokyo on Tuesday, Son said that Japanese students “don’t study if they are not asked," so if the country makes AI studies mandatory, "students will catch up." Son noted that the U.S. and China continue to maintain a widening lead over Japan and other countries when it comes to AI-related patents and innovation. Specifically, he believes Japan should focus on autonomous driving, in addition to DNA-centered medicine, to help manage its aging populace and prevent traffic accidents. - REUTERS

3. Developers created an AI that automatically produces "hedcuts" – the style of portrait used by The Wall Street Journal for its columnists. The Journal began using hedcuts - which are drawings based on the so-called "stippling" and "hatching" methods - back in 1979. While a single portrait can take about three to five hours to create, the publication's new AI can apparently develop one from scratch. Boing Boing points out that the machine ran into some obstacles along the way, including not understanding baldness and overfitting, which caused it to produce some "terrifying monstrosities" (like the hedcuts seen below). - WSJ

4. Finland is rolling out a free online course covering the basics of AI to all European Union citizens. The country hopes the nearly $2 million project - which will make its "civics course in AI" available in all E.U. official languages  - will reach 1 percent of all union citizens by late 2021. The country is working with the University of Helsinki and tech consultancy Reaktor to roll out the program, which is based on "The Elements of AI" - the most popular course ever offered by the university. The course covers elementary AI concepts but doesn't go into things like coding, according to computer science professor Teemu Roos. "We have enormous potential in Europe but what we lack is investments into AI," he noted. - AP

5. An AI-powered "text adventure" known as AI Dungeon is now available on iOS and Android. The open text adventure uses AI to generate responses to a user's commands, creating near-infinite possibilities in the fantasy and sci-fi realms. The Verge, which tested out the new IOS version, reports that the smartphone app is faster and easier to use than the web version, which has been described as "clunky." Creator Nick Walton, who quit his job to work on the game full-time, says he's been "really blown away" by how much people enjoy the game. He plans to make it faster and more stable and add a multiplayer mode in the future. - THE VERGE

6. Tech company Hypergiant developed an AI-powered bioreactor that helps grow algae to fight climate change. Due to the Earth's rising temperatures, algae has been thriving in waters, where it captures carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Researchers believe the plant could help fight global warming by drawing out the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. Enter Hypergiant's EOS bioreactor, which uses AI to monitor and regulate the growth of algae and then captures the resulting carbon dioxide. (The leftover algae is harvested and dried for mixing into animal feed or consumer products.) "Our goal is to make it so that no one needs to monitor or maintain this machine when it's out in the field," says Hypergiant's research and development director Daniel Haab. - BUSINESS INSIDER

7. Hugging Face, the developer behind the open-source framework Transformers, has raised $15 million, which will help it hire more employees. The company, which started out building a chatbot mobile app marketed as a "digital friend," later released the open-source library for natural language processing applications. Its Transformers libraries for PyTorch and TensorFlow - which have been downloaded over a million times – bring together AI models such as Google’s BERT and XLNet and OpenAI’s GPT and GPT-2. The Series A round was led by Lux Capital, with participation from Salesforce's chief scientist Richard Socher and OpenAI's CTO Greg Brockman, as well as A.Capital and Betaworks. The company, which has 15 employees, said it plans to triple its headcount in New York and Paris. - TECHCRUNCH

8. IBM's investments in its artificial intelligence platform in India are producing triple-digit growth, says Vikas Arora, the company’s vice president for cloud and cognitive software in India and South Asia. Buoyed by robust business in India, IBM now controls 9.2 percent of the global AI market, more than any other company worldwide. In total, the AI market mushroomed by 35.6 percent last year, reaching $28.1 billion, according to the business research firm IDC. Revenues for IBM’s AI engine Watson - named after company founder Thomas J. Watson – are included in cloud and cognitive software, which increased by 6.4 percent to $5.3 billion worldwide in the third quarter. - REUTERS

A version of this story first appeared in Inside Cloud.

9. Google launched its Wildlife Insights tool, which uses AI to spot wild animals in photos and post them on a searchable public website. The goal is to better help researchers track worldwide animal populations, some of which are declining due to climate change. The AI automatically labels wildlife in photos and discards any images that don't contain animals. About 4.5 million images have been uploaded to the tool's website and can be searched based on filters like country and species. As Engadget notes, "if you want to find pictures of giraffes in Kenya, you can go directly to the camera traps that spotted them." - ENGADGET

10. In an article for Wired, Harvard Law School professor Susan Crawford explores the various patchwork of rules governing facial recognition technology across the U.S. As Crawford notes, San Francisco and Oakland in California and Somerville, Massachusetts, have all outlawed the use of the technology at the city level. Meanwhile, Portland, Oregon, will soon consider barring how its government, as well as private companies, can use facial recognition. At the state level, California, New Hampshire, and Oregon all prohibit law enforcement agencies from using facial recognition in body cameras. While the rules appear headed "for a major clash," local governments can serve as a "testing grounds for new ideas, providing proof that the status quo can change," particularly when federal policy is absent, Crawford writes. - WIRED

Written and curated by Beth Duckett, a former reporter for The Arizona Republic who wrote a book about the solar industry and frequently covers hobby and commercial drones. You can follow her tweets about the latest news in artificial intelligence here.

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