Bytes: What’s new in tech
AI vs. the IRS
Watson’s next challenge? Doing your taxes, said Steve Lohr in The New York Times. H&R Block is using IBM’s artificial intelligence technology to help prepare clients’ tax returns this filing season at its 10,000 offices across the country. Tax returns are ideally suited for Watson, which excels at analyzing huge amounts of text. Watson combed through 74,000 pages of the federal tax code, as well as thousands of tax-related questions taken from six decades of H&R Block data, and can now make suggestions for refunds and reducing tax liabilities. It’s the “broadest deployment” yet for IBM’s AI system, which has been used to help doctors diagnose cancer and also famously competed on Jeopardy!
Lady Gaga’s drone army
The drone tech behind Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl performance could revolutionize more than halftime entertainment, said Brian Barrett in Wired.com. “An army of dancing drones, ducking and dodging over the Houston skyline,” accompanied the pop megastar, transforming from stars to a fluttering flag to the Pepsi logo. The choreographed display—which was taped one week before the game to abide by FAA regulations—used Intel’s Shooting Star drone system, involving 300 drones. The plastic and foam drones are roughly 1 foot square, weighing just over 8 ounces. Each communicated wirelessly with a central computer to execute its coded routine. “But the technology offers far more practical, and potentially lifesaving, applications.” Swarms of synchronized drones could one day be used to carry out search-and-rescue operations, perform crop inspections, and work on construction sites.
Poker bot trumps humans
Robots are winning at poker now, said Angela Moon in Reuters.com. Libratus, an AI program built by Carnegie Mellon University, racked up $1.7 million worth of chips over the course of a 20-day Texas Hold’em tournament that ended last week in Philadelphia, beating four of the world’s top players. Poker has long been considered “immune to machines,” because of the nature of the game: Players have to solve problems with low information and decipher human behavior. Libratus triumphed in large part because of its ability to outbluff other players, opening up new possibilities for AI. “Imagine that your smartphone will someday be able to negotiate the best price on a new car for you,” said Frank Pfenning of Carnegie Mellon. ■