NASA launches a challenge to fund AI systems for future spacecraft – hopefully without HAL-style errors

Roundup Welcome to this week’s roundup of AI-related news.

The US military wants AI tech to help find a COVID-19 vaccine: The US Department of Defense plans to spend about $3.8bn – given by Congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act – to fund AI research to treat COVID-19.

“Funds are required to apply artificial intelligence (AI)-based models to rapidly screen, prioritize and test Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved therapeutics for new COVID-19 drug candidates,” the document said. “Without this funding, such rapid AI-enabled screening capabilities cannot be established in time to respond to the current crisis.”

The $3.8bn falls under the military’s Defense Health Program and also includes other R&D efforts to see how effective the novel coronavirus is as a “biological defense weapon,” as well as developing “US sourced production capabilities” to develop pharmaceuticals for potential COVID-19 drugs.

“As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the Nation and the world, the Department has been proactive in taking steps to protect the military, civilians, and families. Further, the Department continues to undertake training in innovative, unique, and tailored ways that adhere to force protection requirements, and implement appropriate isolation or other restrictions of movement for persons critical to national security functions,” according to the report.

You can read the spending plan in more detail here.

US military AI legend retires: The long-standing Director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, a division set up to help the Pentagon adopt new machine learning technologies, has left the organization.

Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan has served as the top chief since 2018, and announced his plans to retire some time in the Summer earlier this year. “In the 18 months that I’ve been in the seat, I’d say we put all the foundational elements in place,” Shanahan said, C4isrnet reported.

“Taking an organization that was in June 2018 [made up of] four volunteers with no money and a couple of cubicles in different spots to work out of, to where we are today with 185 people with a $1.3 billion budget — we’ve grown so fast that we’ve exceeded our current spaces and we’re moving into a separate facility. All of that’s happened in 18 months. For the Department of Defense, that’s as fast of a growth spurt as you can possibly imagine.”

Shanahan led JAIC to adopt a set of guidelines for using AI ethically, making sure the technology is “responsible, equitable, traceable, reliable, and governable”. He also kickstarted Project Maven, the controversial collaboration with private tech companies like Google to use machine learning algorithms to analyze drone footage. The Chocolate Factory eventually pulled out from the project after facing much backlash from its own employees.

JAIC is still looking for a fresh leader, and has appointed its CTO Nand Mulchandani as acting Director in the meantime. The Register previously spoke to Mulchandani about the DoD’s efforts to use AI algorithms to analyse supply chain issues during the coronavirus pandemic.

NASA wants autonomous spacecraft: NASA is looking to fund machine learning technologies that will spur the development of autonomous spacecraft with a new competition known as the Entrepreneurs Challenge.

“There’s a lot of energy and fresh thinking as a result of the entrepreneurial spirit that has emerged in our field over the past few years,” said Michael Seablom, NASA’s chief technologist for science. “We want to be sure we’re not leaving good ideas on the table or missing the contributions some of these potential partners could make to the exciting science missions coming up.”

The challenge will dish out as much as $100,000 in cash prizes spread over three stages. First, participants need to submit white papers that aims to answer a specific research question or describe technologies that can be applied to a certain area of expertise.

Up to 20 groups will be selected for the second round that involves a live presentation of their ideas. Only ten will make it through to the third and final round, where they can be awarded up to $80,000 to develop their proposals.

NASA is mostly interested in three areas:

  • Advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence for autonomous spacecraft and surface rovers, as well as for Earth observation and disaster management.
  • Advanced mass spectrometry for life detection and other science applications, using instrumentation that is beyond state-of-the-art in being low-power and low-mass, and utilizing innovations in sampling technology and processes that include cutting-edge materials or components.
  • Quantum sensors that support high precision assessments of gravity, magnetic fields, dark energy, and other measurements to support NASA science.

The deadline for submitting white papers is 26 June, and you can apply to join the Entrepreneurs Challenge here.

The first English language AI comic: The Japanese manga comic Phaedo, created using AI algorithms trained on the works of the so-called “Godfather of Manga” Osamu Tezuka, has now been translated into English.

The project was backed by Kioxia, a Japanese computer memory manufacturer, as part of its Future Memories project. Kioxia described using 130 of his stories and splitting them across thirteen parts to train a system to generate a new plot. Only 20 per cent of the 100 potential stories were developed further into tales that include dialogues.

Human illustrators drew the comic to produce Phaedo, named after the main character who has a robot bird sidekick that helps him solve crimes. Phaedo has now been translated into English, you can read it here.

“Phaedo is the world’s first international manga created through human collaboration, high-speed and large-capacity memory and advanced AI technologies,” Kioxia said. ®

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