Five technologies that will rock yourworld
can learn to recognise early signs of diabetic blindness. By analysing CT scans, a neural network can learn to spot lung cancer. Such technology will improve health care in places where doctors are scarce. But eventually, it will streamline care in the developed world as well. Google is already running tests inside two hospitals in India, and the start-up Infervision has deployed similar technology in hospitals across China. In the longer term, similar methods promise to rapidly accelerate drug discovery and so many other aspects of health care. “Everything from the nature of the food that we grow and eat to the drugs that we give ourselves to how we monitor the impact of these things is all being transformed by A.I. in deeply profound ways,” said Matt Ocko, a managing partner at DCVC, a San Francisco venture capital firm that has invested heavily in this area. Neural networks are not limited to image recognition. Far from it. These same techniques are rapidly improving coffee-table gadgets like the Amazon Echo ( pictured left), which can recognise spoken commands from across the room, and online services like Skype, which can instantly translate phone calls from one language to another. They may even eventually produce machines that can carry on a conversation. Recently, said Luke Zettlemoyer, a University of Washington professor, there has been a “huge phase shift” in the area of natural language understanding — technology that understands the natural way people talk and write. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are at the forefront of this movement, which promises to fundamentally change how we interact with phones, cars, and potentially any machine. Many companies are moving down the same path, including Replika, a San Francisco start-up.
With help from machine learning, Replika offers a smartphone “chatbot” that acts as a kind of personal confidante, chatting with you in moments when no one else is around. But the hope is that these techniques will improve to where they serve you in so many other ways. What if Alexa was truly conversational, if you could have a back and forth dialogue? Right now, it is about basic questions and commands. Today, it “recognises” words very very well. But truly “understanding” complex English sentences is beyond machines at this point. What if machines could carry on a dialogue like Hal in 2001? Want more science fiction in your everyday reality? As entrepreneurs like Musk work to put a chip in your head, others are working to put cars in the skies.
Even as he sets the pace in the race to autonomous cars, Larry Page, the chief executive of Alphabet and a founder of Google, is backing Kitty Hawk, a startup that wants to move commuting into the air. And many others, including the start-up Joby Aviation, Uber and Airbus, are working on vehicles capable of flying above congested roads. These vehicles take