Indian-American brothers look to harness artificial intelligence for greater good

Artificial intelligence could be deployed by dictators, criminals and terrorists to manipulate elections and use drones in terrorist attacks, more than two dozen experts said on Wednesday, 21 February 2018. (AFP)
Updated 25 February 2018

Indian-American brothers look to harness artificial intelligence for greater good

SAN FRANCISCO: As debate swirls on whether artificial intelligence will be a boon or a curse for humanity, two Indian-American entrepreneur brothers are out to ensure the emerging technologies don’t just benefit the richest in society.
Romesh and Sunil Wadhwani this week launched what is billed as the world’s first nonprofit institute dedicated to putting AI to work improving lives of poor farmers, rural health care workers or teachers in communities with scant resources.
“AI will go where AI will go; it is difficult to predict where,” Sunil Wadhwani said of the conflicting views on the emergence of computers more brilliant than their human creators.
“Our focus is how many tens of millions of lives can we improve in the next five or 10 years. Where AI goes in 100 years, it will go.”
The entrepreneur brothers, who have a series of lucrative startups to their name, have committed $30 million over 10 years to the Wadhwani AI institute, established in Mumbai with the Indian government as a partner.
Areas targeted at the outset will include health care, education, agriculture and urban infrastructure.
The project’s founders hope AI could help nurses in rural areas with diagnoses, advise how to optimize crops, translate text books into various languages as needed or even spot signs students might be on paths to dropping out.
“AI is a game-changing technology,” said Sunil Wadhwani, who is based in Pittsburgh as a trustee for Carnegie Mellon University.
“A lot of developing countries are getting left behind; US and China are leapfrogging ahead.”
Students from New York University and the University of Southern California will travel to Mumbai to collaborate, while the brothers also plan to partner with players in Silicon Valley, where Romesh Wadhwani is based.
The ethical issues raised by AI — from its potential to destroy jobs to the power it could exert over people’s lives — will be front of mind, according to institute chief P. Anandan, a former Microsoft Research director.
“It has the potential to be used badly, or run away on its own,” Anandan said of AI.
“At the end of the day, you are going to manage that by being aware of it from the start and applying it where intentions are good.”

Internet giants have been investing heavily in creating software to help machines think more like people, boosted by super-fast computer processing power and access to mountains of data to analyze.
AI has been put to work in the form of virtual aides, for recognizing people’s friends in photos, fighting “fake news,” stymying the online spread of violent extremist messages and more.
But the rise of artificial intelligence brings mighty new challenges too, and the new initiative coincides with the release of a report by AI scholars warning the technology has the potential to be exploited for nefarious purposes.
“These technologies have many widely beneficial applications,” said the study produced by the Future of Humanity Institute, the nonprofit group OpenAI and others.
“Less attention has historically been paid to the ways in which artificial intelligence can be used maliciously.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which took part in the study, expressed concern that “increasingly sophisticated AI will usher in a world that is strange and different from the one we’re used to, and there are serious risks if this technology is used for the wrong ends.”

High-profile figures who have expressed fears about the potential dangers of AI include tech visionary and innovator Elon Musk.
SpaceX founder and Tesla chief executive Musk in 2015 took part in creating the research organization OpenAI, which aims to develop artificial intelligence that helps rather than hurts people.
Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Google-owned British AI firm DeepMind are also members of a nonprofit “Partnership on AI” which seeks to promote the technology’s use “to benefit people and society.”
Sunil Wadhwani has meanwhile promised an “aggressive” timeline at the brothers’ eponymous institute, with testing of potential AI tools starting by the end of this year.


Space telescope offers rare glimpse of Earth-sized rocky exoplanet

Updated 20 August 2019

Space telescope offers rare glimpse of Earth-sized rocky exoplanet

  • LHS 3844b, an exoplanet about 1.3 times the size of Earth, is locked in a tight orbit around a small, relatively cool star called a red dwarf

Direct observations from a NASA space telescope have for the first time revealed the atmospheric void of a rocky, Earth-sized world beyond our own solar system orbiting the most common type of star in the galaxy, according to a study released on Monday.
The research, published in the scientific journal Nature, also shows the distant planet’s surface is likely to resemble the barren exterior of the Earth’s moon or Mercury, possibly covered in dark volcanic rock.
The planet lies about 48.6 light years from Earth and is one of more than 4,000 so-called exoplanets identified over the past two decades circling distant stars in our home galaxy, the Milky Way.
Known to astronomers as LHS 3844b, this exoplanet about 1.3 times the size of Earth is locked in a tight orbit — one revolution every 11 hours — around a small, relatively cool star called a red dwarf, the most prevalent and long-lived type of star in the galaxy.
The planet’s lack of atmosphere is probably due to intense radiation from its parent red dwarf, which, though dim by stellar standards, also emits high levels of ultraviolet light, the study says.
The study will likely add to a debate among astronomers about whether the search for life-sustaining conditions beyond our solar system should focus on exoplanets around red dwarfs — accounting for 75% of all stars in the Milky Way — or less common, larger, hotter stars more like our own sun.
The principal finding is that it probably possesses little if any atmosphere — a conclusion reached by measuring the temperature difference between the side of the planet perpetually facing its star, and the cooler, dark side facing away from it.
A negligible amount of heat carried between the two sides indicates a lack of winds that would otherwise be present to transfer warmth around the planet.
“The temperature contrast on this planet is about as big as it can possibly be,” said researcher Laura Kreidberg of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is lead author of the study. Similar analysis previously was used to determine that another exoplanet, 55 Cancri e, about twice as big as Earth and believed to be half-covered in molten lava, likely possesses an atmosphere thicker than Earth’s. This exoplanet, unlike LHS 3844b, orbits a sun-like star.
The planet in the latest study was detected last year by NASA’s newly launched Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, an orbiting telescope that pinpoints distant worlds by spotting periodic, dips in the light observed from their parent stars when an object passes in front of them.
But it was follow-up observations from another orbiting instrument, the Spitzer Space Telescope, which can detect infrared light directly from an exoplanet, that provided new insights about its features.