Twenty or thirty years ago, a description of Google Earth would have elicited from many folks the same kind of reaction this paragraph from a BusinessWeek story probably is garnering today:
Some advanced applications of AI [artificial intelligence] will take time. Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, is developing a technology that could be built into a wireless hat and work as a "mental typewriter." By scanning brain waves, it can guess what a person is thinking and predict search queries. A prototype of the software can recognize about 60 words, such as "airplane" and "celery," says Dan Pomerleau, a researcher at Intel Labs in Pittsburgh, Pa. It could take more than 10 years for its vocabulary and accuracy to improve enough for real-life uses, he says.
I can't think of anything more embarrassing than an outsider hacking my sense-o-cap and downloading the searches my brainwaves are engendering in particular situations. Indeed, it sounds like the basis of a great new form of blackmail. In a more serious vein, the story-which describes the moves toward the mobilization of artificial intelligence that aren't quite as creepy-is a sign that the pace of change is not likely to slow down.
There may be a temptation, after a period of rapid advancements, to think that things have gone as far as they can. In 1900, physicist Lord Kelvin said that there "is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Of course, a few years later a fellow by the name of Albert Einstein came along and pointed out a little detail that dawned on him while working at the Bern, Switzerland, patent office: The age-old assumption that time is an absolute-that five seconds to somebody standing still is the same five seconds to somebody in a spacecraft-is wrong.
Earlier this month, The New York Times ran a story on little telepresence robots that run around hospitals and enable doctors to diagnose patients from afar. These devices are mostly dumb. But not all:
... some models have artificial intelligence that lets them do some things on their own, and they will inevitably grow smarter and more agile. They will not only represent the human users, they will augment them.
Presumably, the robots and the doctors accept the same insurance. In any case, it is doubtful that anyone who watches the telecom and IT sector today is naive enough to think that innovation will level off. But it won't just continue, either. The creativity unleashed during the past few years married to the increased power of smartphones and similar devices guarantees that the exciting advances will accelerate. It seems likely that many of them will be in the mobile AI sector.