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
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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.


Greek researchers enlist EU satellite against Aegean sea litter

Greek university students gently deposits a wall-sized PVC frame on the surface before divers moor them at sea at a beach in the island of Lesbos on April 18, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 22 April 2019
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Greek researchers enlist EU satellite against Aegean sea litter

  • “All the targets were carried into the sea, the satellites passed by and we’re ready to fill out the first report”
  • Satellite data is provided free from the European Space Agency (ESA) and hours after the overpass targets should be detected from the Sentinel-2 satellite

LESBOS ISLAND, Greece: Knee-deep in water on a picture-postcard Lesbos island beach, a team of Greek university students gently deposits a wall-sized PVC frame on the surface before divers moor it at sea.
Holding in plastic bags and bottles, four of the 5 meter-by-5-meter (16 foot-by-16-foot) frames are part of an experiment to determine if seaborne litter can be detected with EU satellites and drones.
“This was the first big day,” says project supervisor Konstantinos Topuzelis, an assistant professor at the University of the Aegean department of Marine Sciences, said of the scene from last week.
“All the targets were carried into the sea, the satellites passed by and we’re ready to fill out the first report.”
The results of the experiment — “Satellite Testing and Drone Mapping for Marine Plastics on the Aegean Sea” — by the university’s Marine Remote Sensing Group will be presented at a European Space Agency symposium in Milan in May.
“Marine litter is a global problem that affects all the oceans of the world,” Topouzelis told AFP.
Millions of tons of plastic end up in the oceans, affecting marine wildlife all along the food chain.
“Modern techniques are necessary to detect and quantify marine plastics in seawater,” Topouzelis added, noting that space agencies have already been looking into how drones and satellites can help with the clean-up.
“The main advantage is that we are using existing tools,” which brings down costs and makes it easier to scale up, says Dimitris Papageorgiou, one of the 60 undergraduate and postgraduate students who worked on the experiment.
To prepare, the team gathered some 2,000 plastic bottles and lashed them to the frames. Other targets were crafted with plastic bags, as these are even harder to spot in the water and usually constitute the deadliest threat to Aegean marine life such as dolphins, turtles and seals.
In 2018, a first phase in the experiment was able to detect large targets of around 100 square meters from space.
This year’s experiment uses targets a quarter that size to test the smallest detectable area under various weather conditions.
“It was a crazy idea,” laughs Topouzelis.
“We knew that the European satellite system passes at regular intervals with a spatial resolution of 10 meters.”
In theory, then, the satellites should be able to detect the floating rafts of plastic the team pushed out to sea.
The University of the Aegean is working on the project with Universidad de Cadiz in Spain, CNR-Ismar in Italy and UK environmental consultants Argans Ltd.
Satellite data is provided free from the European Space Agency (ESA) and hours after the overpass targets should be detected from the Sentinel-2 satellite.
The project acts as a calibration and validation exercise on the detection capabilities of the satellites.
But even if relatively small patches of plastic garbage can be spotted from orbiting satellites, the problem of how to remove it from the sea remains.
Last year, a giant floating barrier five years in the making was launched off the coast of San Francisco, as part of a $20-million project to clean up a swirling island of rubbish between California and Hawaii.
But the slow speed of the solar-powered barrier prevents it from holding onto the plastic after it scoops it up.