In Littleton, Colorado, a company called Continental Divide Robotics (CDR) is a result of work done at two AI labsone at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the other at the Colorado School of Mines. CDR is about to offer a system that can locate any person or object anywhere in the world and notify the user if that person or object breaks out of a certain set of rules.
One of the first uses is for tracking parolees. The parolee would wear a pager-size device that uses Global Positioning Satellite technology to know where it is. Over wireless networks, the pager constantly notifies CDR's system about its location. If the parolee leaves a certain area or gets near a certain house, the CDR software will make decisions about the severity of the violation and whom to contact. That makes it more sophisticated than the electronic anklets now used on some parolees.
CDR's technology sounds simple, but it can involve a number of fuzzy choices. If a child being tracked goes just outside his limits, the system might decide to wait to see whether he comes right back in. And it might decide whether to send you a light caution or a major warningor to call the police. "We are literally creating software that is reactive and proactive," says Terry Sandrin, CDR's founder. "It has the ability to make decisions."
At AT&T Labs, scientist Peter Stone spends a lot of his time preparing for Robocup, an annual robotic soccer challenge coming up in August. This year, it will be in Seattle and will pit AI research labs against one another. Rolling robots the size of pint milk cartons are armed with sensors and AI software. Like real soccer players, each of the 11 robots on a team has to know its job but also must react to situations and learn about the other team. At this point, the robots can pass the ball a little but still mostly act on their own. Their capabilities are improving quickly.
It seems frivolous, but getting AI-programmed robots to work as a team to achieve something would have real-world implications. One would be making the Internet more efficient. As Stone explains it, the Net is made up of thousands of computerized routers all moving data around but acting independently. If they could act as a team, they might figure out better ways to transmit the data, which would avoid clogged areas.
Aaron takes AI to the arts, which can be a little harder to believe. But Aaron creates original work on a computer screenquite sophisticated work. Artist Harold Cohen taught the software his style over 30 years, feeding in little by little the ways he decides color, spacing, angles and every other aspect of painting.
After all that time, the program is finally ready, and computers are powerful enough to make it work. While still in development, it won fans such as computing legend Gordon Bell. Now, Kurzweil has licensed it and plans to sell it for U.S. $19.95. Load it on a PC and let the artist loose.
"There have been various experiments with having machines be an artist, but nothing of this depth," Kurzweil says. "Cohen has created a system that has a particular style but quite a bit of diversitya style you'd expect of a human artist."
Other uses of AI range from the amazing to the mundane.
Computer As Companion
At Microsoft, Horvitz is trying to make your computer more of a companion than an inanimate tool. His software lets the computer learn about you. It learns who is important to you and who's not. It learns how to tell whether you're busymaybe by how much you type, or by using a video camera to see whether you're staring at the computer screen or putting golf balls across the carpet.