Japanese researchers want to build a robot child. Called the Atom Project, it will run for thirty years and cost around ten billion quid -- thus ensuring a long life for the old AI joke about it being easier and quicker to do the job with unskilled labour. The announcement goes on about it being the equivalent of the Moon landing, and that it will put Japan, Inc., at the forefront of a new and lucrative industry. Alas, funding is not yet guaranteed.
AI seems to be having something of a resurgence at the moment, with several large projects getting money -- though none as stupidly overspecified as Atom. Some intriguing work is going on with evolutionary computing coupled to neural networks, following the same model as the human brain seems to follow when it first gets going in a body. Set up a rough framework of rules, feed it impressions, select for processing pathways that best sort out the sensations into a coherent picture, repeat until something goes ping. Thing is, that doesn't cost a great deal of money to play with, especially now we can build huge networks of processors for a few tens of thousands of dollars.
My own feeling is that following a fallow period where our models outstretched our abilities to test them, we're entering a time when some real experimental work in silicon and living systems will kick start something much bigger. But it won't come from billion-dollar projects, and it won't look like anything we're expecting
It certainly won't look much like Kevin Warwick, who's still at it. This month, an experiment to monitor his neural impulses thought it was dealing with a particularly big spike of Warwickian cogitation, when it was picking up a text message being received by a researcher's nearby phone instead. This opens up a whole new area of fun, of course: we've had Aussie performance artist Stelarc deliberately connecting himself to the Net so his limbs twitch on incoming messages, but if we can make the Prof dance like a amphetamine-laden puppet whenever his mobile goes off then we may be getting somewhere. Beats downloading ringtones.