Third time’s a charm… and our third annual Robo Madness conference in Boston had plenty of that. (So did the first two.) From live robot demos to provocative discussions on the opportunities and challenges in artificial intelligence, our speakers really delivered on this year’s theme: A.I. Gets Real.
Huge thanks to our host, Google, whose venue and support seem to get stronger every year. Special thanks to our event sponsors, who made it all possible: GE, Harmonic Drive, iRobot, Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories, Cirtronics, and TriNet. And, of course, thanks to our speakers, attendees, and demo organizers, who are what the event is really about.
Also, a big shout-out to Keith Spiro Photography for the pictures above.
Now, on to a few takeaways from the day:
1. Self-driving vehicles are at peak hype. There are huge opportunities at stake, but some of the biggest problems have yet to be solved: data sharing, liability, urban infrastructure, accounting for human behavior. Not to mention the technology needs to improve. On the plus side, the money flowing into the sector will benefit robotics as a whole. And incremental advances will continue to boost vehicle safety.
2. Data ownership is the key issue in machine learning. We’ve heard this before, but big companies’ access to data—see Google, Amazon, Facebook, Uber, Tesla—gives them a huge leg up in A.I. applications. There’s not much new under the sun in terms of algorithms, so startups’ opportunities are largely determined by their datasets and team expertise.
3. Humans will need to communicate their goals to A.I. systems. In a world where machines can do more and more, people need to lay out guidelines for their behavior. This is especially important given that “deep learning” systems are getting harder for humans to understand and predict. Which leads to…
4. We’d better think about jobs and ethics now. Robotics companies would rather address inefficiencies and labor shortages in fields like logistics, manufacturing, and delivery. But it seems likely that some (and perhaps many) human jobs will eventually become automated. How will business and policy leaders empower the human side of this evolving relationship? Stay tuned.
Xconomy’s Jeff Engel contributed to this report.
Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com.