Cover Story: Opaque AI, Can We Manage the Risk?

Tess Bennett 2017-07-24 In 2004 NASA scientists and engineers embarked on a two-year journey to develop artificial intelligence software that could design a satellite antenna. They came up with an algorithm modeled on Darwinian evolution which takes specific design parameters such as size and frequency bands and generates random antenna designs. These are tested and the best ones are used to “breed” new designs. “The process of designing antennas using AI involves telling the AI algorithm the ‘what’ and letting it figure out the ‘how’,” says Jason Lohn, a former Nasa and Google engineer, who led the team that successfully developed three AI-designed antennas that were sent into space aboard NASA’s Space Technology 5 mission in 2006, pictured right. The evolution process repeats itself until it produces a design that solves the problem at hand, Lohn tells Which-50. “The evolved antennas we developed are largely unintelligible to human engineers, they have strange shapes that one cannot find in textbooks or handbooks. So, in a sense their ‘reasoning’ or how they work is opaque,” Lohn says. As artificial intelligence — systems that change behaviours without being explicitly programmed, based on data collected — get more complex, so does the ability to…


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