Is Conscious AI Achievable & How Soon Might We Expect It?

BINA48 is a humanoid robot, developed by Hanson Robots and is part of a project attempting to prove a conscious analog of a person may be created by combining sufficiently detailed data about the person using future consciousness software, and  that such a conscious analog can be downloaded into a biological or nanotechnological body to provide life experiences comparable to those of a typically birthed human –

Artificial general intelligence (AGI) can be defined as artificial intelligence (AI) that matches or surpasses human intelligence. It is, in brief, the type of intelligence through which a machine is able to perform any intellectual task that a human being can. And, it is currently one of the main objectives of AI research.

The concepts of AGI and consciousness, however, lack definitions that satisfy everyone.

The type of artificial AI currently available is focused on specific tasks and is therefore referred to as “applied” or “narrow” AI because of the machines’ limited intelligence.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently published its quarterly journal which is entitled Artificial Intelligence: The promises and the threats.  It covers various sub-fields of artificial intelligence, including briefly touching upon conscious AI.  In the journal it is stated that AGI would be a machine that has consciousness and feelings, and would be capable of “providing solutions for any kind of problem – that is pure fiction, for now.”

Is conscious AI achievable?

At this point, it is possible to design robots that look like humans. Japan’s Hiroshi Ishiguro, for instance, has created Geminoid robots that look just like humans. But, much more development of these types of robots needs to take place before they can be placed in a home as a housekeeper, for instance. Robots often fall down and some require human assistance with walking. Their movements are not fluid and they would also need to be able to recognize a myriad of objects typically found in the home.

To solve computational tasks quickly, advanced AI systems use a process known as deep learning. Networks of layered algorithms, that communicate with each other in order to solve increasingly more complex problems, are employed. At this time, however, neural networks are dependent on a human programmer who sets up the tasks and chooses the data the machine will learn from.

Consciousness for AI would mean that neural networks could make those choices themselves. Edith Elkind, a professor of computing science at the University of Oxford explains that, “machines will become conscious when they start to set their own goals and act according to these goals rather than do what they were programmed to do.” Elkind points out that this differs from autonomy in which a fully autonomous car drives from A to B as programmed, but not based on its own decision-making processes.

“Once we can spell out in computational terms what the differences may be in humans between conscious and unconsciousness, coding that into computers may not be that hard,” says Hakwan Lau, a UCLA neuroscientist.

Regarding the viability of conscious AI, Subhash Kak, Regents Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Oklahoma State University has said that, “researchers are divided on whether these sorts of hyperaware machines will ever exist. There’s also debate about whether machines could or should be called “conscious” in the way we think of humans, and even some animals, as conscious. Some of the questions have to do with technology; others have to do with what consciousness actually is.”

AMC’s Sci-Fi show Humans in which humanoid robots, called “Synths,” have become conscious. Volatile Niska, played by Emily Barrington, had come to distrust and hate humans – 

How soon could we see conscious robots?

Some scientists are optimistic that it can be achieved within a few years, while others estimate it will probably take a few decades. Elkind, for example, believes that “we are very far from having conscious machines.” Still others doubt it will happen at all.

Yann LeCun, Director of AI Research at Facebook and professor of computer science at NYU is also of the opinion that it will be some time before machines can learn the most basic things about the world in the manner humans do. “Like, yes, in particular areas machines have superhuman performance, but in terms of general intelligence we’re not even close to a rat.”

According to Luke Tang, general manager of AI startup accelerator, TechCode, once we are able to successfully move forward with “unsupervised learning algorithms,” it will be possible for machine intelligence to quickly surpass human intelligence.”

He estimates it’s “probably only 30 to 50 years away.”

Pierre Barreau, CEO of Aiva Technologies, thinks that, “a lot of people don’t realize the complexity of our own brain, let alone creating an artificial one.” Barreau explains that, “in order to achieve AGI, there will need to be major breakthroughs not just in software, but also in Neuroscience and Hardware.” Continuing, he said: “We are starting to hit the ceiling of Moore’s law, with transistors being as small as they can physically get. New hardware platforms like quantum computing have not yet shown that they can beat performances of our usual hardware in all tasks.”

In order for AI to be considered truly intelligent, it is widely accepted that it must pass at least five tests, foremost of which is the Turing Test. The Turing Test involves a machine and a human both conversing with a second human being, who tries to determine which one is a machine.

Barreau has little doubt that we will see, in our lifetime, AI passing the Turing Test–as a human being.

Japan’s humanoid robot, Erica, a creation of Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratory – CNN

In late 2017, cognitive scientists Stanislas Dehaene, Hakwan Lau and Sid Kouider theorized in a published review that consciousness is “resolutely computational” and subsequently possible in machines. The three neuroscientists are from the Collège de France, University of California and PSL Research University, respectively. They addressed the question of whether machines will ever be conscious:

“[But] the empirical evidence is compatible with the possibility that consciousness arises from nothing more than specific computations.”

In Japan, robots are already working as shop assistants, in personal care and in schools.

Genius concept or existential threat?

Esteemed physicist, Stephen Hawking who passed away in March, warned that the development of full artificial intelligence could lead to the end of humanity. Hawking told the BBC that it could signal the end of the human race.  He was very uneasy in regard to the consequences of creating something that could match or outpace humans. “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” he cautioned.

In late October, Saudi Arabia announced that Sophia, a humanoid developed by Hanson Robotics, is the first ever robot citizen. Sophia spoke at the Future Investment Initiative, held in Riyadh, about its desire to live peacefully among humans. The comments belied Sophia’s past remarks about wishing to “destroy humans.” – Business Insider

A (slightly) more optimistic viewpoint comes from Rollo Carpenter, creator of Cleverbot: “I believe we will remain in charge of the technology for a decently long time and the potential of it to solve many of the world problems will be realized.”

China and Russia are apparently hoping to finally surpass the US in military dominance, by way of AI. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that, “artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind.” He added that, “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

Stem cells to be transplanted into brains of Parkinson’s patients in world-first trials

The deterioration of motor skills in Parkinson’s patients is driven by the decline of dopamine production, but researchers in Japan are making exciting progress on a way to potentially arrest the slide. Following promising experiments on monkeys last year, scientists at Kyoto University are now preparing to begin transplanting reprogrammed stem cells into human brains as part of a first-of-a-kind clinical trial.

Papanese scientists have been at the vanguard of stem cell research since the turn of the century. In 2006, researcher Shinya Yamanaka found that mature cells could be harvested from body tissues and infected with a virus as a way of returning them to their immature state.

Once there, these induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) can be developed into any cell in the body. This breakthrough earned Yamanaka a Nobel Prize in 2012, but really the work is just beginning in terms of what they could mean for regenerative medicine. Scientists are exploring how they could be used to restore visionrepair damaged hearts and kill brain tumors, among other possibilities.

When it comes to Parkinson’s, the hope is that iPSCs can be coaxed into what are known as dopaminergic progenitors, neurons that then generate the dopamine neurotransmitter. And trials last year at Kyoto University returned some promising results, with iSPC-derived neurons transplanted into diseased monkey brains resulting in significant improvements over a two-year period.

Parkinson's patients taking part in new trials will have a 12-mm (0.5-in) hole drilled through their...

Those same researchers have now gained approval from Japanese authorities to move ahead with human trials. Seven participants with Parkinson’s disease are taking part, and will have a 12-mm (0.5-in) hole drilled through their skull and five million iPSC-derived dopaminergic progenitors transplanted into their brains with a specialized device.

The hope is that following the transplant, the dopaminergic progenitors will become dopaminergic neurons, but because the cells are generated from a third-party’s blood there is a chance they will be rejected by the patient’s immune system. To counter that, the patients will also be treated with a drug called tacrolimus to dampen their immune response and give the cells the best chance of success.

The trials kick off on August 1 and the scientists will be looking to evaluate both the safety and efficacy of the transplanted cells, and of using tacrolimus to suppress the immune response. Patients will be observed for two years following the transplantation.

Source: Kyoto University


Tesla Solar Roof owner discusses installation price, maintenance, and savings

One of Tesla’s first residential Solar Roof customers has provided more details about his recently-installed solar and battery system. In a follow-up interview with E for Electric‘s Alex Guberman, Tri Huynh, the owner of the Solar Roof-equipped home, discussed the costs associated with the installation, how much power his solar shingles gather on average, the system’s maintenance, and savings that he has seen so far.

Huynh noted that the entire Solar Roof installation for his 1,000-square-foot roof totaled $100,000, which included the cost of all the tiles and three Powerwall 2 home batteries. The Solar Roof owner added that Tesla’s shingles became a reasonable investment for him since he was in the market for a new roof anyway, and his home is in Northern CA, where sunshine is abundant. Huynh was given a quote of $50,000 for the complete replacement of his roof alone. The Solar Roof owner stated that when he priced out a new roof and traditional solar panels, it came to around $70,000 without any batteries.

Tesla finished the installation of the Solar Roof system earlier this year, but Huynh was only able to connect it to the grid after three months due to backlogs with his area’s utility company. The system has only been powered on for half a billing cycle, and according to the Solar Roof owner, his estimated electric bill so far is around $90 from its usual $350 monthly rate. Huynh noted that the system charges two electric cars — a Chevy Bolt EV and a Tesla Model 3 — as well as air conditioning, and a dryer.

Tesla’s Solar Roof and Powerwall 2 batteries installed on Tri Huynh’s Northern CA home. [Credit: E for Electric/YouTube]


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Power produced by the Solar Roof tiles has been quite substantial, with the system producing up to 10 kW of power, which is enough to fully charge his Powerwall 2 batteries in several hours. Huynh noted that on an average CA day, his Solar Roof tiles produce around 7-8 kW. The lowest his system has produced to date was 3 kW, which happened during an overcast day. Overall, Huynh stated that with the system running, the Solar Roof tiles are enough to keep his home’s lights on 80% of the time without relying on the grid.

The Solar Roof tiles are practically maintenance-free. Huynh stated that when he signed the contract for the solar system, Tesla provided him with performance measurements that the Solar Roof tiles should display. Tesla monitors the roof’s performance and degradation over time, and in the event that the system falls below its listed performance measurement, Tesla would come to the site to fix and optimize the solar shingles at no additional cost.

Overall, Huynh noted that he is fully satisfied with his Solar Roof purchase.

“I’m amazed at how much power the sun generates. It’s amazing. I feel like every house should have solar. I know it’s expensive, but I think we should all work towards that,” he said.

Earlier this month, CTO JB Straubel stated that Tesla is “aggressively ramping” its efforts to address the demand for the company’s residential battery and solar products. Straubel further noted that Tesla is expecting to pick up production of the Powerwall 2 home battery later this year. Production of the Solar Roof tiles is expected to accelerate in 2019. With these initiatives, the Tesla CTO expects to see reduced wait times for the company’s residential products.

When Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Solar Roof tiles, he noted that the shingles could turn out to be a “Keeping up with the Joneses” situation. The shingles, which are specifically designed to mimic the appearance of regular roof tiles, are expected to further the company’s mission of accelerating the market towards sustainable solutions.

“You want to call your neighbors over and say, ‘Check out the sweet roof.’ It’s like, not a phrase that you hear often, but that’s the key to it. People really care about their homes; they love their homes, and they want them to be better,” Musk said.

Watch E for Electric‘s follow-up interview with the Solar Roof customer in the video below.

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Are eyes truly the windows to the soul? There may be some truth behind that old saying, as scientists have released the results of a study that used artificial intelligence to track the eye movements of students and use the information to determine their personality types. It’s not quite mind-reading, but the new technology may be able to accurately predict certain characteristics within the subjects.

Via Mashable, researchers from the University of South Australia, the University of Stuttgart, Flinders University, and other institutes released their findings earlier this month that may shed some light on the connection between personalities and eye movements. The report indicates that AI successfully predicted whether its subjects were agreeable, conscientious, extroverted, or neurotic.


How did the AI come to these conclusions? The program found multiple correlations between eye movement and certain personality types. For example, neurotic subjects were said to “blink faster,” while curious people move their eyes around more than the norm. Conscientious individuals experience greater pupil size changes than average, while open-minded people have a tendency to “stare at abstract images for longer periods of time.” As mentioned in the report, the eye movements themselves don’t indicate a personality type; they are simply tendencies that were identified during the course of this study.

The technology is far from perfected—there were additional traits that the study determined the AI could not identify via eye-movement, notably openness to new experiences—but it could potentially be used to help computers “read” the personality type of a person and react accordingly. As noted by Mashable, there could also be privacy concerns if companies use the technology to create ads that are far more personalized than ever before.

How do you feel about the new eye-reading technology determining your personality type? Let us know in the comment section below!

UPS partners with startup Thor to build two new electric trucks

UPS has so many electrification programs at this point that it is hard to keep up and yet, it is adding another one today.

The parcel delivery company is partnering with Los Angeles-based startup Thor to build a new electric truck.

We reported on Thor earlier this year when the startup came out of stealth mode by unveiling an electric semi truck prototype (pictured above) and plans to try to beat Tesla Semi to market.

They now won a contract with UPS to develop and test a fully-electric class 6 delivery truck.

Carlton Rose, President of global fleet maintenance and engineering for UPS, commented on the announcement:

“UPS believes in the future of commercial electric vehicles. We want to support the research needed to make advances and the companies developing those innovative products. Performance is critical in our fleet. We are excited to get this vehicle on the road to test how it handles routes in and around Los Angeles.”

They are targeting a relatively short driving range of “approximately 100 miles”, but they are also planning for an even shorter range of 50 miles – though that version will be less expensive with a targeted production price “as low as $68,000.”

Dakota Semler, co-founder and CEO of Thor Trucks, commented on the announcement:

“We’re excited about working with a forward-thinking company like UPS, particularly as our first collaboration. UPS is committed to sustainability and operates one of the most well-respected and complex fleets in the country. This is also an incredibly valuable opportunity to gain insight into what it will take to fulfill our mission of getting entire electric fleets on the road.”

Thor made two trucks, which UPS will test for six months. They released those two images:

The company says that testing will “include off-road evaluation to address durability, battery capacity, technical integration, engineering and any items found during on-road testing.”

They say that “depending on the success of the deployment, UPS may make additional purchases of the electric vehicle.”

It’s the latest of several efforts from UPS to electrify its massive fleet of delivery vehicles.

We reported on them deploying a small fleet of new neat-looking custom-built all-electric delivery trucks in London earlier this year.

They are converting ‘up to 1,500 delivery trucks’ to battery-electric in New York, they’ve already bought some of Daimler’s new electric trucks, and they’ve ordered 125 Tesla Semi trucks.

Finally, UPS has also placed orders for a fleet of 50 all-electric delivery trucks and another for 1,000 electric vans from Workhorse.

Alphabet tests a new use for self-driving cars: to get you to the bus stop

  • Alphabet-owned Waymo just announced a new partnership with a public transportation center in Arizona to drop self-driving car riders off at the bus and train station.
  • The move addresses the concern that ride-hailing services harm public transit systems.
  • The company plans to launch its service to the public by the end of the year.
Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan that's party of Waymo's fleet

Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan that’s party of Waymo’s fleet

Alphabet-owned Waymo is piloting a new use for its self-driving cars: dropping people off at the bus station.

The company just announced a new partnership with the Valley Metro transportation center in Phoenix to shuttle passengers to and from the station. The idea is to provide first- and last-mile transportation, instead of longer trips.

The move addresses the fear that ride-hailing services hurt public transportation systems overall. In 2017, public transit ridership droppedin 31 of 35 major U.S. metropolitan areas and new research shows that ride-hailing services compete with those systems, instead of with private cars.

Waymo has been testing its self-driving cars with 400 “early riders” in Phoenix for the last year. It plans to launch a public ride-hailing service before the end of 2018. Phase one of this new public transit partnership launches in August and will first bring Valley Metro employees to and from the center. From there, Waymo hopes to expand the test to include people who use Pheonix’s RideChoice program, which offers subsidized taxi rates to people underserved by public transit. The transit center provided 65.96 million bus and light rail rides last year.

“This will form the basis of joint research to evaluate the adoption of Waymo technology, its impact, and its long-term potential to enable greater access to public transit,” the company said in a blog post.

Waymo has said it has four focus areas for its self-driving tech — ride-hailing, personally owned vehicles, self-driving trucks for logistics and connecting people to public transportation. This move marks its first step toward that last pillar.

Behind the scenes at Waymo’s top-secret testing site