x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

AI meets Hello Kitty

A breakthrough in artificial intelligence yields an affinity for kitty cats.

You hook 16,000 computers together and turn them loose and what do they do? They get interested in pictures of cute and cuddly cats on the internet.

That was the jovial interpretation some media gave to this week's news from Google's publicity-shy X Laboratory in California, where scientists announced their latest accomplishment in the quest to create true artificial intelligence.

Researchers connected the 16,000 processors to make one of the largest artificial neural networks ever built. Its one billion connections are laughable compared with the quadrillion in a human brain, but were enough to allow some testing. Single images from 10 million YouTube videos were then fed to this supercomputer - and it got interested in cats, "teaching itself" to recognise felines even from partial or unusual images.

This focus may tell us, TheNew York Times notes, more about what's on YouTube than about computer research. But the story also tells us the day may dawn sooner than we expect when true artificial intelligence becomes a valuable servant - or, if we're not careful, something more ominous. We live in an era when science fiction is becoming reality.