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.


Thaw of Antarctic ice lifts up land, might slow sea level rise

Updated 22 June 2018
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Thaw of Antarctic ice lifts up land, might slow sea level rise

  • The fast rise of the bedrock beneath will lift ever more of the ice onto land, reducing the risks of a breakup of the sheet caused by warming ocean water seeping beneath the ice
  • The process was too slow to save the ice sheet from a possible collapse triggered by global warming

OSLO: Antarctica’s bedrock is rising surprisingly fast as a vast mass of ice melts into the oceans, a trend that might slow an ascent in sea levels caused by global warming, scientists said on Thursday.
The Earth’s crust in West Antarctica is rising by up to 4.1 centimeters (1.61 inches) a year, an international team wrote in the journal Science, in a continental-scale version of a foam mattress reforming after someone sitting on it gets up.
The rate, among the fastest ever recorded, is likely to accelerate and could total 8 meters (26.25 feet) this century, they said, helping to stabilize the ice and brake a rise in sea levels that threatens coasts from Bangladesh to Florida.
“It’s good news for Antarctica,” lead author Valentina Barletta of the Technical University of Denmark and Ohio State University told Reuters of the findings, based on GPS sensors placed on bedrock around the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica.
Much of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which has enough ice to raise world sea levels by more than three meters (10 feet) if it ever all melted, rests on the seabed, pinned down by the weight of ice above.
The fast rise of the bedrock beneath will lift ever more of the ice onto land, reducing the risks of a breakup of the sheet caused by warming ocean water seeping beneath the ice.
The uplift “increases the potential stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet against catastrophic collapse,” the scientists wrote.
Last week, another study said that three trillion tons of ice had thawed off from Antarctica since 1992, raising sea levels by almost a centimeter — a worsening trend.
It often takes thousands of years for the Earth’s crust to reshape after a loss of ice. Parts of Scandinavia or Alaska, for instance, are still rising since the end of the last Ice Age removed a blanket of ice more than a kilometer thick.
A further report this month found that the West Antarctic ice sheet expanded about 10,000 years ago, interrupting a long-term retreat after the last Ice Age, because of a rise of the land beneath.
But it said the process was too slow to save the ice sheet from a possible collapse triggered by global warming.
One of the lead authors of that study, Torsten Albrecht at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told Reuters on Thursday: “The expected eight-meter (26.4-foot) uplift in 100 years in the Amundsen Sea region ... seems rather small in order to prohibit future collapse.”