1 – Microsoft Brings in Top Sci-Fi Authors to Help Envision the Future

Microsoft recently published a free e-book anthology of science fiction stories called Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Stories Inspired by Microsoft. Authors include well-known names in the science fiction genre, such as David Brinn and Nancy Kress, and each story extends upon a current science project on which Microsoft Research is working. Microsoft Research has been responsible for some of the company’s most “far-out” ideas, including the Kinect sensor and Microsoft HoloLens. The stories not only entertain but present interesting questions around the potentials for future technology.

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(Read the full article on Business Insider)

2 – ​NTU Scientists Unveil Social and Telepresence Robots

Professor Nadia Thalmann of Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) is the creator of Nadine, a social robot developed by scientists at NTU to act in a receptionist- or companion-like role. Nadine is a humanoid that is powered by similar technology to Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana. Nadine is able to have a basic conversation with humans, and remembers previous conversations, among other characteristics. NTU also introduced EDGAR, a telepresence robot that can be used by standing in front of a specialized webcam from anywhere in the world. Among other features, the user’s face and expressions are displayed on the robot’s in real time, and the robot emulates the user’s upper body gestures simultaneously.

(Read the full article on Nanyang Technological University)

3 – Social robots: The solution to our screen addictions, or just more digital weirdness?

Jibo, the robotic “brainchild” of MIT Engineer Cynthia Breazeal, is set to ship in early 2016. Breazeal’s company plans to market the AI-powered Jibo as a household appliance with a personality. She believes that instead of increasing humans’ addiction to technology, Jibo’s social nature will actually draw humans from the typical screen interaction. Sherry Turkle is one former collaborator of Breazeal’s who has been vocal about her fears that robots will erode necessary human relationships. While this fear remains to be realized, Jibo is one of the first social robots of its kind meant to interact with humans on a new level. The Jibo platform can also be customized with various apps to fit varying preferences.

(Read the full article on The Washington Post)

4 – What Robots and AI Learned in 2015

The advances made in AI over the year 2015 can be organized into several areas. In the area of robots in the workforce and robot production, a number of open contests, such as the Amazon Picking challenge and the DARPA Robotics challenge, helped generate and innovate improvements in domains such as robot sensing, locomotion, manipulating, learning, and other skills. Self-driving cars were a much publicized innovation, in terms of developments and ethical considerations, with several new companies such as Apple, Uber, and Baidu entering the automated driving technology industry. Deep-learning neural networks were also an accelerating trend, with companies like Facebook leveraging the technology to develop its new personal assistant, M.

(Read the full article on MIT Technology Review)