Asked if the race to achieve superhuman artificial intelligence (AI) was inevitable, Stuart Russell, UC Berkeley professor of computer science and leading expert on AI, says yes.
It was a half a century ago this year that Berkeley High grad and Cal drop-out Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? hit the shelves. Set in 2021, the story follows the systematic annihilation of renegade androids in a post-apocalyptic, nuclear-ravaged San Francisco. (In short: man made robot, robot outsmarted man, man crushed robot.) Though a work of fiction, the novel is revered to this day for its astute insights on the future of man and machine—perhaps because so much of the story has, in some form or another, become reality.
Posted on September 9, 2019 - 10:55am
While it’s not news that the golden state has taken on a crackling red hue from recent wildfires, reports of the fires’ behaviors are blazingly bizarre.
It’s been commonly observed by firefighters that fires slow down at night, according to Scott L. Stephens, UC Berkeley professor of fire science. But a number of recent fires have said “to hell with the slow burn!” and begun spreading quickly even when the sun goes down.
Posted on July 20, 2018 - 2:51pm
You’ve said the role of research administration is to support faculty and provide “the best possible environment for pursuing world-changing research.” As the new vice chancellor for research, how do you create that environment and what does it look like?
The robot and I met at the southwest corner of Center and Shattuck. It was 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, and the streets were bustling. The robot was small and boxy, something like a cooler on wheels. I knelt down at what I presumed was the robot’s front end. It winked a pixilated eye.
Following instructions I’d received in advance, I raised a hand and flashed an “okay” sign. The robot emitted a pleasant dinging sound and a hatch on top slowly opened. I reached in and removed a grease-stained paper bag. Inside were two slices of warm pizza.
Posted on February 26, 2018 - 3:47pm
Good Robot, Bad Robot
MIT Technology Review says 2017 was the year robots backflipped into our hearts, with exhibit A being Atlas, Boston Dynamics’ incredibly gymnastic bot, which (resisting the urge to say ‘who’) not only sticks the landing on an honest-to-god backflip, but raises its arms afterward as if in celebration.
Posted on January 12, 2018 - 3:22pm
In the ongoing quest to build artificial intelligence (AI) that more closely mimics the human brain, some computer scientists at Berkeley are focusing on one crucial piece of the puzzle: curiosity.
For the last three years Deepak Pathak and Pulkit Agrawal, Ph.D. students in the Berkeley computer science department, have worked to create software that can learn on its own. Now the team is looking at creating systems that can not only learn, but keep asking questions.
Technoscenti titans Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have gotten into a bit of a tiff lately, with Musk repeating warnings that rapidly developing artificial intelligence (AI) poses an existential threat to humanity, and Zuckerberg countering that such concerns are much ado about not much.
Posted on August 10, 2017 - 4:23pm
IN 2015, an observatory high in the Atacama Desert of Chile detected three planets orbiting an M star, an ultra-cool dwarf, in the constellation Aquarius about 40 light years, or 232 trillion miles, from Earth. Until then, the dim star was designated 2MASS J23062928-0502285. Not such a charming name. The discoverers of its satellites, a team of astronomers who operate the Chilean observatory remotely from Liege in Belgium, took the opportunity to warm up that appellation.
“We turned the switch and saw the flashes,” said physicist Leo Szilard, describing his 1942 experiment that created the first controlled nuclear chain reaction. “We watched them for a little while and then turned everything off and went home. That night, there was very little doubt in my mind that the world was headed for grief.”
Good vs. bad. Right vs. wrong. Human beings begin to learn the difference before we learn to speak—and thankfully so. We owe much of our success as a species to our capacity for moral reasoning. It’s the glue that holds human social groups together, the key to our fraught but effective ability to cooperate. We are (most believe) the lone moral agents on planet Earth—but this may not last. The day may come soon when we are forced to share this status with a new kind of being, one whose intelligence is of our own design.
Posted on June 4, 2015 - 12:37pm
Imagine a city in the near future devastated by a powerful earthquake. Rescue workers arrive and unleash hundreds of tiny robots. Some of these robots flap into the air with “wings,” sending images of the disaster area to the ground team—a swarm of insect-like devices the size of a matchbox that scuttle over the concrete and disappear into crevices. One robot’s sensors detect a person trapped under the rubble, so it signals to a larger, stronger robot for assistance before moving on to the next building.
BRETT the robot is a knot-tying whiz; it can tie an overhand knot, square knot, figure 8, and hitch. Sure, there are robots out there that drive cars, detonate roadside bombs, and even collect rock samples from the surface of Mars, but what makes BRETT special is not what it can do, but how it came by its modest talents.
People tend to be wary of replacing humans with robots—but what if robots could be deployed as mechanical helpers in the fight against Ebola?
The disease, which is an epidemic in West Africa and has made isolated appearances in a few other countries including the United States, is hard to catch but often deadly. Because it is spread by contact with an infected patient’s bodily fluids, health care workers and burial workers are particularly at risk.
Posted on October 24, 2014 - 1:11pm