The Power of Love Electric Ducted Fans
Zapata Racing claims to have invented a real, fully functional hoverboard. Unlike the one Marty McFly glides around on in Back to The Future, this version looks less like a skateboard and more like something out of the original Star Wars trilogy. They say it's not ready for production quite yet, but videos released on Facebook look promising. More promising still is the ArcaBoard, an oblong, fan-assisted floating board, harnessing 272 horsepower created by Romanian aerospace company Arca. Though it can only reach speeds of 20mph, the next ten years could see all of us gliding along to the sound of Huey Lewis and the News Track "The Power of Love," though hopefully not wearing an 80's shell suit.
To Self-Drive and Beyond
The film history of driverless cars has been more (self-fulfilling) prophecy than fantasy, as Google continues to fine tune its version. We've seen this kind of smart transport in so many films, most notably '90s cult classic Demolition Man. Sandra Bullock's Lieutenant Huxley drives a car with a self-driving mode which can be overridden, amazingly reflecting the offerings from Tesla and Nissan currently in development. In fact, Nissan aims to have a fully autonomous car on the market by 2020, racking up the equivalent of 80 years of research. What are we looking at here? By 2018, Nissan hope to send out cars that can change lanes autonomously. Elon Musk's Tesla, hopefully avoiding any Terminator-style situations, aims to introduce fully automated cars by 2018. In the immediate future is Summon technology, where you can call your car from within a range of 3 miles. Accio car? So not only could we see one kind of autonomous car on the highways, but several different kinds in city streets, as seen in Minority Report. Who knows what this means for the movie car chases of the future?
How long would it take to play a billion billion hands of poker? Cepheus, a poker-playing AI developed by a team at the University of Alberta, took just 2 months. By now Cepheus is unbeatable, and plays poker at a superhuman level. Then there's AlphaGo, a Google DeepMind program that plays the ancient game Go at a similar level, and has beaten the human world champion. There's a gap between a game-playing program and the manipulative HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the decisions HAL makes are based on its own, sinister internal logic. AlphaGo makes decisions based on its initial training of 30 million Go moves, and a process of reinforcement learning. Cepheus plays a game that involves bluffing and anticipating other players' moves, which sounds pretty impressive. It's maybe a bit soon to panic about a computer taking over the world though, Cepheus has its limitations. The distinction between Limit and No-limit Hold'em is important here. Of the two most popular Hold'em variations out there, Cepheus has mastered arguably the less "human" kind - Limit Hold'em. The amount a player can bet per hand in this version is predetermined, leaving Cepheus with a series of specific rules that its opponent must also adhere to. No Limit Hold'em sounds like a job for HAL, or supercomputer V.I.K.I from I, Robot; it's all about taking chances, betting all your chips if you think you'll win the hand, using your instinct as well as your intellect and understanding of the rules. We have yet to invent an AI that can manage that.
So we're still a little far from dystopic supercomputer domination. However, artificial intelligence with a human face is already a reality. Meet Nadine, the receptionist robot. If you greet her, she will respond. She is what they call "a social robot." She was developed by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore to communicate effectively with people, chat and remember faces. Though her software is closer to Apple's Siri than the complex learning processes Cepheus and AlphaGo use, she is literally the face of robotics today. NTU's aim is for Nadine and her fellow "social robots" to be used in care homes and hospitals to make a new, robotic workforce. Sound familiar? In I, Robot, the famous 3 Laws of Robotics of Isaak Asimov were broken. Let's hope that future Nadines keep them in mind.
So we've all thought about which sci-fi films might actually turn into reality – cool points for you if that film was Blade Runner. But no matter what futuristic vision sparks our imagination, what if tomorrow you went to the supermarket and the check-out girl was a super-sophisticated AI, or on the way a black cat went past you, and then another that was just like it? There's no doubt we're pretty comfortable with our day to day technology. How soon will we make the leap from apps that control our central heating to a full-on HAL situation? And was it the same cat?