Singular Simplicity

The story of the Singularity is sweeping, dramatic, simple--and wrong

6 min read
Screenshot of the timeline.

This is part of IEEE Spectrum's SPECIAL REPORT: THE SINGULARITY

Take the idea of exponential technological growth, work it through to its logical conclusion, and there you have the singularity. Its bold incredibility pushes aside incredulity, as it challenges us to confront all the things we thought could never come true—the creation of superintelligent, conscious organisms, nanorobots that can swim in our bloodstreams and fix what ails us, and direct communication from mind to mind. And the pièce de résistance: a posthuman existence of disembodied uploaded minds, living on indefinitely without fear, sickness, or want in a virtual paradise ingeniously designed to delight, thrill, and stimulate.

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Meta’s AI Takes an Unsupervised Step Forward

In the quest for human-level intelligent AI, Meta is betting on self-supervised learning

6 min read
A collection of 8 sets of images. In each, the left most image is partially obscured, yet recognizable as the blurry version (center) and the sharp version on the right.

Meta AI’s masked auto-encoder for computer vision was trained on images that were mostly obscured [left]. Yet its reconstructions [center] were remarkably close to the original images [right].

Meta

Meta’s chief AI scientist, Yann LeCun, doesn’t lose sight of his far-off goal, even when talking about concrete steps in the here and now. “We want to build intelligent machines that learn like animals and humans,” LeCun tells IEEE Spectrum in an interview.

Today’s concrete step is a series of papers from Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, on a type of self-supervised learning (SSL) for AI systems. SSL stands in contrast to supervised learning, in which an AI system learns from a labeled data set (the labels serve as the teacher who provides the correct answers when the AI system checks its work). LeCun has often spoken about his strong belief that SSL is a necessary prerequisite for AI systems that can build “world models” and can therefore begin to gain humanlike faculties such as reason, common sense, and the ability to transfer skills and knowledge from one context to another. The new papers show how a self-supervised system called a masked auto-encoder (MAE) learned to reconstruct images, video, and even audio from very patchy and incomplete data. While MAEs are not a new idea, Meta has extended the work to new domains.

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Landsat Proved the Power of Remote Sensing

The Earth-imaging satellites have amassed a half-century of data on crops, borders, and war zones

6 min read
A satellite image shows vegetation in red tones and urban and rocky areas in grays and whites.

The first image captured on 25 July 1972 by the first Landsat satellite shows the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Robert Simmon/USGS/NASA

On 18 September 1969, U.S. President Richard Nixon addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. It was a difficult time in global politics, and much of his speech focused on the war in Vietnam, disputes in the Middle East, and strategic arms control. Toward the end, though, the speech took a curious and hopeful turn, as Nixon rhapsodized about the unifying potential of international cooperation in space exploration. As an example, he noted the United States was in the process of developing new satellites to survey Earth’s natural resources.

Three years later, on 23 July 1972, NASA launched what would be the first Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS). It gave scientists, land managers, policymakers, and others an unprecedented view of their planet. The program has since launched eight more satellites. Renamed the Landsat program in 1975, it is now celebrating its 50th anniversary of imaging the Earth.

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Automating Road Maintenance With LiDAR Technology

Team from SICK’s TiM$10K Challenge creates system to automate road maintenance

4 min read

Developed by a team of students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute as part of SICK's TiM$10K Challenge, their ROADGNAR system uses LiDAR to collect detailed data on the surface of a roadway.

SICK

This is a sponsored article brought to you by SICK Inc.

From advanced manufacturing to automated vehicles, engineers are using LiDAR to change the world as we know it. For the second year, students from across the country submitted projects to SICK's annual TiM$10K Challenge.

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