Today's artificial intelligence is certainly formidable. It can beat world champions at intricate games like chess and Go, or dominate at Jeopardy!. It can interpret heaps of data for us, guide driverless cars, respond to spoken commands, and track down the answers to your internet search queries.
Say you're on the phone with a company and the automated virtual assistant needs a few seconds to “look up” your information. And then you hear it. The sound is unmistakable. It's familiar. It's the clickity-clack of a keyboard. You know it's just a sound effect, but unlike hold music or a stream of company information, it's not annoying. In fact, it's kind of comforting.
Speech recognition software isn't perfect, but it is a little closer to human this week, as a Microsoft Artificial Intelligence and Research team reached a major milestone in speech-to-text development: The system reached a historically low word error rate of 5.9 percent, equal to the accuracy of a professional (human) transcriptionist. The system can discern words as clearly and accurately as two people having a conversation might understand one another.
On a clear day, the sky hides nothing from space. For more than half a century, spy satellites have circled the globe, taking pictures of the world below. First launched by the United States and the Soviet Union as ways to keep tabs on each other, satellite photography progressed from a state secret to a common mapping tool, with public photos taken from space available to anyone with an internet connection. But what if satellites did more? What if, instead of just showing us what the world looks like from above, they interpreted those images to identify buildings and other objects?
There are plenty of bots working today to produce basic, numbers-driven reports on sports and finance results, but the Olympics showed that one robo-reporter can be quite prolific. A single Chinese bot named Xiaomingbot produced 450 stories about results from the games.