What do you get when you Google it?

Just about everything these days. Everyone knows that Google is the ‘King’ of all search engines whether it is the best or not. But did you know that Google is obsessed with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics too?

What if a software program could think for itself instead of having everything preprogrammed (hard coded)? In other words, you just write rules on how to solve rules? And of course, the interface to the ‘machines’ would be hands free voice requested. Now you have the intelligence for the android of the near future.

For the last couple of years Google have been acquiring companies like DeepMind, which is a group of 50+ very sharp programmers working with former child chess prodigy Demis Hassabis who was once called “probably the best games player in history”. This intellectual base will be building AI software for Google’s entry into the world of robotics.

Another company Google has acquired is Boston Dynamics, its eighth acquisition of a Robotics Company during 2013. The robots manufactured by Boston Dynamics possess locomotive abilities replacing the conventional wheel-based robots with ones that look and act more like humans or even certain kinds of animals. Atlas, the name of their humanoid robot was one of the entries that competed in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (previous article) and has a significant degree of freedom, which can only be matched by human beings. It did not win, but several other robots in the contest were also based on a similar design of Atlas.

A DeepMind-Google ethics board has been set up to establish standard rules for use of AI technology within Google, assuring it does “no evil.” However, the rules set by this board apply only to Google AI R&D. Google X division, a semi-secret facility dedicated to making major technological advancements by a factor of 10 over past development timelines, is taking “science fiction-sounding solutions” to reality. For AI to be helpful to humanity, it needs a lot of data about everything. For Google, this obsession with artificial intelligence and robotics may very well be about building better models of the world so they can make more accurate predictions of future outcomes.

For example, if Google wants to use AI to cure diseases, they need better models of how diseases develop. If they want cars to drive by themselves, they need better models for how transportation networks operate. If they want to create effective environmental policies, they need better models of what’s happening to our climate. AI is based on the availability of lots of data stored in very large data stores that require a tremendous amount of energy to run the servers 24 x 7 x 365 without interruption. (Hint: small thorium molten salt nuclear reactors could do the job without environmental concerns).

Without question, Google is one of the most innovative companies on the planet.  It’s a company that is known mostly for its amazingly successful search and advertising businesses. But that is starting to change with secondary businesses like AI and robotics. Google is not alone and many companies in Europe are leading the pack for humanoid robotic technology and beyond with cognitive androids.

It is no surprise that the BBC has developed a TV series called ‘Humans’ based on synthetic androids called ‘Synths’ with feelings. It is considered science-fiction but based on what I have been learning about the technology, it’s not that far off. For those interested in android behavior BBC style, the entire series (8 episodes) can be watched online at http://www.amc.com/shows/humans (subscription required). The show was so popular it was picked up for another season. Can’t wait!

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