In my previous blog post, I presented a brief history of artificial intelligence (AI) and helped differentiate the terms “artificial intelligence,” “machine learning,” and “deep learning.” In this post, I’ll present a few examples of AI developments that showcase how the technology is quickly reshaping our lives.

Most of us are familiar with AI for its advanced search capabilities or for automated assistants, like Siri and Alexa. In addition, stories about autonomous cars appear in the news quite frequently, as car and technology companies vie for dominance in that emerging field. But AI (and its subset fields of machine learning and deep learning) is infiltrating almost every aspect of our lives, sometimes in ways we might not notice. Here are four examples of groundbreaking AI uses that are in development or use today.


1. Cancer Treatment

Cancers are caused by complex interactions of mutations. By better understanding those mutations, doctors can put together better treatment plans that are specific to each case.

But with so many possible interactions, it’s not possible for an oncologist to examine all the fragmented pieces of genomic information to identify specific mutations for each patient.

To address this problem, a team at Microsoft is developing AI machine learning techniques that allow cancer experts to evaluate each individual patient in ways that humans can’t on their own.[i]

The team is working on a cloud-computing system that sifts through millions of research papers to find genomic data that might be applicable for diagnosing and treating a specific case.

The eventual goal of this project is to provide doctors with a tool they can use to model treatment options based on all the gathered data; this would enable them to then use those models to determine what would work best for each individual patient.


2. Locating Missing and Exploited Children

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children fields several million reports every year regarding child pornography and sexually abused children.[i] But with only 25 analysts, the organization struggles to keep up by hand. The analysts need to collate reports, identify where they originated from, and then make the reports available to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. The problem isn’t solved after handing off the data either: local law enforcement agencies complain that they are inundated by the volume of data they receive.

Artificial intelligence helps the analysts by rapidly analyzing massive volumes of images for known clues to identify and prioritize leads. When done manually, that process can take up to 30 days. But AI has the potential to shrink that analysis and identification time down to a single day. The resulting leads are much more likely to be tangible and actionable for both the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and law enforcement. For the children in need of intervention, the impact of AI could literally be life changing.


3. Wine Making

Precise water management is essential for growing vibrant, high-yield grape crops. For generations, wine growers have controlled water use by checking and adjusting irrigation systems manually. But today, E. & J. Gallo Winery is making use of satellite data and AI supplied by IBM Watson to optimize its irrigation.[i]

The company’s irrigation system uses remote sensor and weather data to deliver optimized levels of water to each vine. To achieve this level of precision, the company relies on IBM Watson to aggregate massive amounts of data from NASA satellite imagery with data from The Weather Company, along with winery-specific data on the vines and soil conditions. The solution then overlays that data onto a detailed map of the vineyard. The result is a detailed irrigation system, based on weather data and soil moisture levels, that can open and close valves as needed to deliver specific amounts of water to each vine.

By combining the benefits of modern processing power, data availability, high-speed analytics, and AI, the winery has been able to reduce its water use by 25 percent, while also improving the quality of its wine.


4. Drone Safety and Accuracy

For most people, walking down a street or through a park without bumping into anything is second nature. We know how to follow a route while avoiding obstacles in our path. We know how to observe moving objects—such as cars, dogs, runners, and bikes—and gauge if we’re on a collision course and when to speed up, slow down, or adjust our direction slightly. But for autonomous drones trying to safely deliver packages, it’s not an easy task to identify objects, anticipate collisions, and take corrective actions at a moment’s notice.

A research team at Microsoft is helping improve those abilities by creating a hardware- and software-based simulation platform.[i] Instead of testing by crashing dozens of drones into physical walls, designers can test simulated drones in dozens of photorealistic environments. The simulations are capable of rendering even subtle objects, like shadows and reflections, with the precision needed to develop accurate computer vision algorithms for drones.

The development platform also includes software libraries that simplify writing code for controlling drones. The team is working to add new AI tools to the platform that could help drones or robots develop even better perception abilities to distinguish objects from shadows, identify how far away an object or person is, or even anticipate and respond to situations in the way that humans anticipate when to safely cross a street between passing cars.

AI Expands the Boundaries of What’s Possible

Every year, researchers across hundreds of fields find new uses for AI. Advanced computing capabilities are pushing the boundaries of what we can accomplish in medicine, manufacturing, science, and even in our daily work and home lives.

To explore more examples of these emerging technologies, check out the AI research, projects, and tools offered by Intel, Microsoft, and IBM. And for more on AI and other current technologies, follow Prowess on our blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

[i] Microsoft. “How Microsoft Computer Scientists and Researchers Are Working to ‘Solve’ Cancer.”

[i] Intel. “Locating Missing and Exploited Children with Artificial Intelligence.”

[i] IBM. “From IoT and Vines Grow the Fruits of Innovation.” April 2017.

[i] Microsoft. “Microsoft Shares Open Source System for Training Drone, Other Gadgets to Move Safely on Their Own.” February 2017.

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