Human

Why Waymo’s self-driving car test in Phoenix is such a big milestone

Artificial intelligence is not the savior of mankind.

All of the intelligence we program into an interface — a speaker like Amazon Echo, the chatbot you use at work, or a car that drives on its own — has to be tested in the real world by actual human beings, and until those tests are perfected, it won’t be saving anyone. Even then, this computer entity is really an extension of the human mind, isn’t it? An AI is only as smart as the humans who create and program it — nothing more and nothing less.

That’s why autonomous cars are so important. They won’t be the savior of all mankind, but the AI in cars will certainly save a few lives — perhaps even millions.

That’s why the recent news that Waymo (the sister company of Google) is using a fleet of 500 test vehicles — the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, outfitted with LIDAR sensors and other tech to keep the car on the straight and narrow — is so important. No autonomous car will ever reach full production standards at larger automakers like Chrysler and GM until there are real people sitting in the vehicle — including kids, as Google’s Waymo has explained.

Here’s why that is.

Every expert in the auto industry knows there are millions of variables when it comes to driving, and an AI has to collect and analyze all…

Meet the People Who Train the Robots (to Do Their Own Jobs)

SAN FRANCISCO — What if part of your job became teaching a computer everything you know about doing someone’s job — perhaps your own?

Before the machines become smart enough to replace humans, as some people fear, the machines need teachers. Now, some companies are taking the first steps, deploying artificial intelligence in the workplace and asking their employees to train the A.I. to be more human.

We spoke with five people — a travel agent, a robotics expert, an engineer, a customer-service representative and a scriptwriter, of sorts — who have been put in this remarkable position. More than most, they understand the strengths (and weaknesses) of artificial intelligence and how the technology is changing the nature of work.

Here are their stories.

Rachel Neasham, travel agent

Ms. Neasham, one of 20 (human) agents at the Boston-based travel booking app Lola, knew that the company’s artificial intelligence computer system — its name is Harrison — would eventually take over parts of her job. Still, there was soul-searching when it was decided that Harrison would actually start recommending and booking hotels.

At an employee meeting late last year, the agents debated what it meant to be human, and what a human travel agent could do that a machine couldn’t. While Harrison could comb through dozens of hotel options in a blink, it couldn’t match the expertise of, for example, a human agent with years of experience booking family vacations to Disney World. The human can be more nimble — knowing, for instance, to advise a family that hopes to score an unobstructed photo with the children in front of the Cinderella Castle that they should book a breakfast reservation inside the park, before the gates open.

Ms. Neasham, 30, saw it as a race: Can human agents find new ways to be valuable as quickly as the A.I. improves at handling parts of their job? “It made me feel competitive, that I need to keep up and stay ahead of the A.I.,” Ms. Neasham said. On the other hand, she said, using Harrison to do some things “frees me up to do something creative.”

Ms. Neasham is no ordinary travel agent. When she left the Army after serving as a captain in Iraq and Afghanistan, she wanted to work at a start-up. She joined Lola as one of its first travel agents. Knowing that part of her job was to be a role model, basically, for Harrison, she felt a responsibility for Harrison to become a useful tool.

Founded in 2015 by Paul English, who also started the travel-search site Kayak, Lola was conceived as part automated chat service and part recommendation engine. Underlying it all was a type of artificial intelligence technology called machine learning.

Lola was set up so that agents like Ms. Neasham didn’t interact with the A.I. much, but it was watching and learning from every customer interaction. Over time, Lola discovered that Harrison wasn’t quite ready to take over communication with customers, but it had a knack for making lightning-fast hotel recommendations.

At first, Harrison would recommend hotels based on obvious customer preferences, like brands associated with loyalty programs. But then it started to find preferences that even the customers didn’t realize that they had. Some people, for example, preferred a hotel on the corner of a street versus midblock.

And in a coming software change, Lola will ask lifestyle questions like “Do you use Snapchat?” to glean clues about hotel preferences. Snapchat users tend to be younger and may prefer modern but inexpensive hotels over more established brands like the Ritz-Carlton.

While Harrison may make the reservations, the human agents support customers during the trip. Once the room is booked, the humans, for example, can call the hotel to try to get room upgrades or recommend how to get the most out of a vacation.

“That’s something A.I. can’t do,” Ms. Neasham said.

Diane Kim, interaction designer

Ms. Kim is adamant: Her assistant doesn’t use slang or emoji.

Her assistant, Andrew Ingram, also avoids small talk and doesn’t waste time on topics beside scheduling her meetings, she said.

Ms. Kim isn’t being tyrannical. She just knows her assistant better than most bosses, because she programmed him.

Ms. Kim, 22, works as an A.I. interaction designer at x.ai, a New York-based start-up offering an artificial intelligence assistant to help people schedule meetings. X.ai pitches clients on the idea that, through A.I., they get the benefits of a human assistant — saving the time and hassle of scheduling a meeting — at a fraction of the price.

It’s Ms. Kim’s job to craft responses for the company’s assistants, who are named Andrew and Amy Ingram, or A.I. for short, that feel natural enough that swapping emails with these computer systems feels no different than emailing with a human assistant.

Ms. Kim’s job — part playwright, part programmer and part linguist — didn’t exist before Alexa, Siri and other A.I. assistants. The job is like a translator of sorts. It is to help humans access the A.I.’s superhuman capabilities like 24/7 availability and infallible memory without getting tripped up by robotic or awkward language.

Even in the narrow parameters of scheduling meetings, it takes a lot of machine learning to break down emails for a computer. For example, setting a meeting for “Wednesday” is different than setting a meeting for “a Wednesday,” as in any Wednesday. X.ai breaks down emails to its component parts to understand intent.

The automated response is where Ms. Kim takes over. Her job is to imagine how…

Dog DNA study maps breeds across the world

dog breeds
With a new dataset, man digs into the genetic history of his best friend.

Mapping the relationships between different dog breeds is rough (get it?), but a team of scientists at the National Institutes of Health did just that using the DNA of 1,346 dogs from 161 breeds. Their analysis, which appears April 25 in Cell Reports, offers a lot to chew on.

Here are five key findings from the work:

Dogs were bred for specific jobs, and this shows in their genes.

As human lifestyles shifted from hunting and gathering to herding to agriculture and finally urbanization, humans bred dogs (Canis familiaris) accordingly. Then over the last 200 years, more and more breeds emerged within those categories. Humans crossed breeds to create hybrids based on appearance and temperament, and those hybrids eventually became new breeds.

DNA from hybrid dogs backs up historical records.

Genetic backtracking indicates that, for example, mixing between bulldogs and terriers traces back to Ireland…

Scientists Grow Working Human Brain Circuits

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have successfully grown the first-ever working 3D brain circuits in a petri dish. Writing in the journal Nature, they say the network of living cells will allow us to study how the human brain develops.

Scientists have been culturing brain cells in the lab for some time now. But previous projects have produced only flat sheets of cells and tissue, which can’t really come close to recreating the three-dimensional conditions inside our heads. The Stanford researchers were especially interested in the way brain cells in a developing fetus can join up together to create networks.

“We’ve never been able to recapitulate these human-brain developmental events in a dish before,” senior author Sergiu Pasca, MD said in a statement.

Studying real-life pregnant women and their fetuses can also be ethically and technically tricky, which means there’s still a…

Weekly Wrap Volume 147

This is a weekly wrap of our popular Daily Knowledge Newsletter. You can get that newsletter for free here.

great-white-shark

While sharks aren’t exactly the ruthless predators most Hollywood features make them out to be (see: Do Sharks Really Not Like How Humans Taste?), they do possess a number of frighteningly efficient mechanisms to assist with aquatic hunting, including ultra-streamlined bodies, high intelligence, the ability to detect electrical fields and minute changes in water pressure, great hearing, incredibly sharp vision, amazing sense of smell (Lemon sharks can even detect tuna oil at a concentration of just one part per 25 million), and the topic of today- many rows of razor sharp teeth, including the ability to rapidly replace them. But are sharks actually able to grow an unlimited number of teeth…(more)

cleaning-wound-hydrogen-peroxide

As a child, did you ever skin your knee and fear telling your parents, afraid of your mom breaking out the brown bottle of pain containing hydrogen peroxide to “help heal” your wound? Given the agony it caused, you might have wondered whether the fizzing liquid was actually helping, and why hydrogen peroxide bubbles when it comes in contact with your skin. If you’re still wondering today, well, wonder no more. To begin with, hydrogen peroxide does indeed kill bacteria, viruses, fungi and a whole host of pathogens thanks to the fact that it is…(more)

This Week’s YouTube Videos (Click to Subscribe)

Bonus Quick Facts

  • Ever wonder why we call junk messages “spam”? Well, wonder no more. While some have suggested that this was because SPAM (as in the Hormel meat product) is sometimes satirized as “fake meat”, thus spam messages are “fake messages”, this potential origin, while plausible enough on the surface, is not correct based on surviving documented evidence of when the term started being used to mean junk or unsolicited messages. The real origin of the phrase comes from a 1970 Monty Python’s Flying Circus skit. In this skit, all the restaurant’s menu items devolve into SPAM. When the waitress repeats the word SPAM, a group of Vikings in the corner sing “SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, lovely SPAM! Wonderful SPAM!”, drowning out other conversation, until they are finally told to shut it.
  • Two of history’s most influential figures, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, were born just hours apart from one another on February 12, 1809, though separated by the Atlantic, with Lincoln born in a one room cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky, and Darwin born in his family’s home in Shrewsbury, England. They also both lost their mothers at a very young age within about a year and a half of one another, Nancy Lincoln dying in 1818 and Susannah Darwin in 1817. While these two titans of history never met, they did share a common view on the institution of slavery, with Darwin noting in a letter in 1861, “Some few, & I am one, even wish to God, though at the loss of millions of lives, that the North would proclaim a crusade against Slavery. In the long run, a million horrid deaths would be amply repaid in the cause of humanity. What wonderful times we live in…. Great God how I should like to see that greatest curse on Earth Slavery abolished.”
  • In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn’s communicator is just…

Faux womb keeps preemie lambs alive

lambs
WOMB WITH A VIEW A lamb at 107 days of gestation (left) — equivalent to about a human fetus at 23 to 24 weeks gestation — matured normally in an artificial womb. Right is the same lamb 28 days later. Such devices may one day help premature babies survive outside the bodies of their mothers.

Premature babies may one day continue developing in an artificial womb, new work with sheep suggests.

A fluid-filled bag that mimics the womb kept premature lambs alive and developing normally for four weeks, researchers report April 25 in Nature Communications. Lambs at a gestational age equivalent to that of a 23- or 24-week-old human fetus had normal lung and brain development after a month in the artificial womb, the researchers discovered. A similar device might be ready for use in premature human babies in three to five years if additional animal tests pan out, study coauthor Alan Flake estimates.

But this is not the science fiction scenario of Brave New World, in which humans were grown entirely in tanks, says Flake, a pediatric and fetal surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “I don’t view this as something that’s going to replace mothers.” Technical and biological hurdles would prevent doctors from using an artificial womb to rescue premature babies younger than about 23 weeks, he says.

Researchers have been trying for 60 years to make an artificial womb or artificial placenta, says George Mychaliska, a pediatric and fetal surgeon at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. His own group has been working on an artificial placenta, or what he calls an “extra-corporeal life-support” system for premature babies for a decade. “One month is very impressive, and the data behind that is strong,” Mychaliska says, but adds that what works for lambs might not work as well for…

Faux womb keeps preemie lambs alive

lambs
WOMB WITH A VIEW A lamb at 107 days of gestation (left) — equivalent to about a human fetus at 23 to 24 weeks gestation — matured normally in an artificial womb. Right is the same lamb 28 days later. Such devices may one day help premature babies survive outside the bodies of their mothers.

Premature babies may one day continue developing in an artificial womb, new work with sheep suggests.

A fluid-filled bag that mimics the womb kept premature lambs alive and developing normally for four weeks, researchers report April 25 in Nature Communications. Lambs at a gestational age equivalent to that of a 23- or 24-week-old human fetus had normal lung and brain development after a month in the artificial womb, the researchers discovered. A similar device might be ready for use in premature human babies in three to five years if additional animal tests pan out, study coauthor Alan Flake estimates.

But this is not the science fiction scenario of Brave New World, in which humans were grown entirely in tanks, says Flake, a pediatric and fetal surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “I don’t view this as something that’s going to replace mothers.” Technical and biological hurdles would prevent doctors from using an artificial womb to rescue premature babies younger than about 23 weeks, he says.

Researchers have been trying for 60 years to make an artificial womb or artificial placenta, says George Mychaliska, a pediatric and fetal surgeon at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. His own group has been working on an artificial placenta, or what he calls an “extra-corporeal life-support” system for premature babies for a decade. “One month is very impressive, and the data behind that is strong,” Mychaliska says, but adds that what works for lambs might not work as well for…

Model Sputnik Finds its Voice After Decades of Silence

As we approach the 60th anniversary of the human race becoming a spacefaring species, Sputnik nostalgia will no doubt be on the rise. And rightly so — even though Sputnik was remarkably primitive compared to today’s satellites, its 1957 launch was an inflection point in history and a huge achievement for humanity.

The Soviets, understandably proud of their accomplishment, created a series of commemorative models of Earth’s first artificial moon as gifts to other countries. How one came into possession of the Royal Society isn’t clear, but [Fran Blanche] found out about…

The Complete Beginners’ Guide to Artificial Intelligence

Ten years ago, if you mentioned the term “artificial intelligence” in a boardroom there’s a good chance you would have been laughed at. For most people it would bring to mind sentient, sci-fi machines such as 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL or Star Trek’s Data.

Today it is one of the hottest buzzwords in business and industry. AI technology is a crucial lynchpin of much of the digital transformation taking place today as organizations position themselves to capitalize on the ever-growing amount of data being generated and collected.

So how has this change come about? Well partly it is due to the Big Data revolution itself. The glut of data has led to intensified research into ways it can be processed, analyzed and acted upon. Machines being far better suited to humans than this work, the focus was on training machines to do this in as “smart” a way as is possible.

This increased interest in research in the field – in academia, industry and among the open source community which sits in the middle – has led to breakthroughs and advances that are showing their potential to generate tremendous change. From healthcare to self-driving cars to predicting the outcome of legal cases, no one is laughing now!

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inRead invented by Teads

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What is Artificial Intelligence?

The concept of what defines AI has changed over time, but at the core there has always been the idea of building machines which are capable of thinking like humans.

After all, human beings have proven uniquely capable of interpreting the world around us and using the information we pick up to effect change. If we want to build machines to help us to this more efficiently, then it makes sense to use ourselves as a blueprint.

Shutterstock

AI, then, can be thought of as simulating the capacity for abstract, creative, deductive thought – and particularly the ability to learn which this gives rise to – using the digital, binary logic of computers.

Research and development work in AI is split between two branches. One is labelled “applied AI” which uses these principles of simulating human thought to carry out one specific task. The other is known as “generalized AI” – which seeks to develop machine intelligences that can turn their hands to any task, much like a person.

Continued from page 1

Research into applied, specialized AI is already providing breakthroughs in fields of study from quantum physics where it is used to model and predict the behavior of systems comprised of billions of subatomic particles, to medicine where it being used to diagnose patients based on genomic data.

In industry, it is employed in the financial world for uses ranging from fraud…

5 Effective Ways To Sound More Human Over A Customer Support Live Chat

live chat customer service tips
live chat customer service tips

Not all good call center agents can be great live chat experts. Talking through a live chat requires a special kind of training and it’s more than just typing responses.

For instance, a call center agent providing support via phone is expected to sound patient and relaxed. A live chat agent, on the other hand, should be a multi-tasker who can handle multiple chats and tasks at the same time.

To help you develop those skills, let’s examine the best live chat customer service tips.

Make the most out of the initial seconds

As a lot of people say, “ the first impression is the last impression”. You should bear this statement in mind, especially if you are into a customer service job.

Some might argue that working as a live chat customer service representative is easy since clients won’t be able to see or hear you. The truth is it’s the other way around.

Creating an impression when you are just typing words can easily lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding. Because of this, you need to be extra careful when chatting with a customer.

Here are a few tips you can use:

• Be cheerful and friendly. Your words and sentences should reflect positivity and politeness. These things can help a customer stressing over an unresolved issue.

• Never be sarcastic even if the customer is. Stay helpful and never joke irreverently with anyone.

• Avoid being blunt and use complete sentences, grammar, phrases, and punctuations. Always reply with a complete answer, even if you believe it’s not necessary.

All you want is good feedback from the customer, and that can only be obtained by using the right tone and the right words.

Speak the customer’s language

Having a refreshing and cheerful attitude is important, but so is speaking in a way your customer feels most comfortable in. For example, if a customer is direct and formal in his/her tone, you should reply accordingly.

On the other hand, if the customer seems to be a conversational-type, then you can start the discussion by asking him how he’s doing. This will help both of you to feel at ease.

In addition to that, you should also know how to approach a customer that’s not too familiar with the English language. In such cases, it’s best…