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Is AI as Smart as a Mouse? A Crow? An Expert Physician?

Companies are deploying artificial intelligence systems but don’t know if they'll measure up

3 min read
Photograph of an intelligent looking squirrel going after some bird feed.
Photo: Dariusz Mejer/EyeEm/Getty Images

The Animal-AI Olympics, which will begin this June, aims to “benchmark the current level of various AIs against different animal species using a range of established animal cognition tasks.” At stake are bragging rights and US $10,000 in prizes. The project, a partnership between the University of Cambridge’s Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and GoodAI, a research institution based in Prague, is a new way to evaluate the progress of AI systems toward what researchers call artificial general intelligence.

Such an assessment is necessary, the organizers say, because recent benchmarks are somewhat deceiving. While AI systems have bested human grandmasters in a host of challenging competitions, including the board game Go and the video game StarCraft, these matchups only proved that the AIs were astoundingly good at those particular games. AI systems have yet to demonstrate the kind of flexible intelligence that enables humans to reason, plan, and act in many different domains. If you asked theStarCraft-playing AI to devise an investment strategy for your retirement, for example, it would give you the digital equivalent of a blank stare.

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Will AI Steal Submarines’ Stealth?

Better detection will make the oceans transparent—and perhaps doom mutually assured destruction

11 min read
A photo of a submarine in the water under a partly cloudy sky.

The Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Virginia cruises through the Mediterranean in 2010. Back then, it could effectively disappear just by diving.

U.S. Navy

Submarines are valued primarily for their ability to hide. The assurance that submarines would likely survive the first missile strike in a nuclear war and thus be able to respond by launching missiles in a second strike is key to the strategy of deterrence known as mutually assured destruction. Any new technology that might render the oceans effectively transparent, making it trivial to spot lurking submarines, could thus undermine the peace of the world. For nearly a century, naval engineers have striven to develop ever-faster, ever-quieter submarines. But they have worked just as hard at advancing a wide array of radar, sonar, and other technologies designed to detect, target, and eliminate enemy submarines.

The balance seemed to turn with the emergence of nuclear-powered submarines in the early 1960s. In a 2015 study for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, Bryan Clark, a naval specialist now at the Hudson Institute, noted that the ability of these boats to remain submerged for long periods of time made them “nearly impossible to find with radar and active sonar.” But even these stealthy submarines produce subtle, very-low-frequency noises that can be picked up from far away by networks of acoustic hydrophone arrays mounted to the seafloor.

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