We owe a lot to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a division of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies. The 60-year-old agency proposed and prototyped the precursor to the world wide web. It developed an interactive mapping solution akin to Google Maps. And its personal assistant — Personal Assistant That Learns (PAL) — predated Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa by decades.
But it’s also one of the birthplaces of machine learning, a kind of artificial intelligence (AI) that mimics the behavior of neurons in the brain. Dr. Brian Pierce, director of DARPA’s Innovation Office, spoke about the agency’s recent efforts.
One area of study is so-called “common sense” AI — AI that can draw on environmental cues and an understanding of the world to reason like a human. Concretely, DARPA’s Machine Common Sense Program seeks to design computational models that mimic core domains of cognition: objects (intuitive physics), places (spatial navigation), and agents (intentional actors).
“You could develop a classifier that could identify a number of objects in an image, but if you ask a question, you’re not going to get an answer,” Pierce said. “We’d like to get away from having an enormous amount of data to train neural networks [and] get away with using fewer labels [to] train models.”
The agency is also pursuing explainable AI (XAI), a field which aims to develop next-generation machine learning techniques that explain a given system’s rationale.
“[It] helps you to understand the bounds of the system, which can better inform the human user,” Pierce said.
More broadly, the agency recently pledged to invest $2 billion in AI over the next five years — or about $400 million a year — as part of its AI Next initiative.
Anyone can participate in DARPA-funded programs by responding to an invitation for proposals on fbo.gov. Its $3 billion-a-year annual budget funds projects overseen by roughly 100 program managers (PMs), who retain in-house and contracted talent.
DARPA has spurred advancements in AI in part through competition. Over 10 years ago, in 2004, DARPA kicked off the Grand Challenge, which tasked teams of engineers and researchers with completing a 132-mile course in the Nevada desert with an autonomous car. The subsequent Urban Challenge had those cars navigate a landscape designed to replicate an urban landscape.
Among other ongoing challenges are the DARPA Robotics Challenge, which pits teams developing control and perception algorithms (plus interfaces) against each other, and the Cyber Grand Challenge, a competition to create automatic defensive systems.
The end game, Pierce said, is to achieve a paradigm shift from AI that can perform basic inference to AI capable of contextual reasoning — systems that, in essence, can come to accurate conclusions in situations they’ve never encountered.
“We feel that if we can make the interactions between humans and machines more symmetric, we can have machines become more effective partners in whatever endeavor we may tackle,” Pierce told VentureBeat earlier this month. “It’s the foundation that starts to enable other types of applications.”
VR headsets let us step into some of our most favorite and iconic fictional worlds. I can stand at the edge of High Hrothgar, peering down at the rolling landscapes of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or fight off demons in Doom VFR. In Japan, you can pilot a Gundam or try your hand at DBZ VR, Dragon Quest VR, Mario Kart VR, and more VR Zone at Shinjuku. You can even gun down Stormtroopers with Secrets of the Empire from The Void. Then why not more anime VR experiences? If it works for DBZ, surely it can work for others.
According to Siliconera, Sony Music Communications and Taito are collaborating on a VR attraction centered around the massively popular Attack on Titan anime series titled VR Attack on Titan: The Human Race. The experience will support up to four players as they battle against the Female Titan and is based on a chapter from the original manga.
We’re still a ways off from a real Sword Art Online VR MMO (Nostos is making some steps in the right direction), but until then the likes of Attack on Titan VR will certainly hold us over.
As you can see in the image above, the rigs are setup side-by-side with fans, and it looks a lot like Vive Pros dangling there at each station. Attack on Titan VR is getting a location test in Tokyo at Ginza Sony Park from October 19 to October 26.
Does this look like something you’d want to try? With Mario Kart VR available in London already and coming to the U.S. soon, maybe more location-based VR experiences from Japan will start making their way to the West over too.