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How artificial intelligence is changing our lives

From smart phones that act as personal concierges to self-parking cars to medical robots, the artificial intelligence revolution is here. So where do humans fit in?

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The challenges that remain are substantial. An autonomous vehicle must be able to think and react as a human driver would. For example, when a person is behind the wheel and a ball rolls into the road, humans deduce that a child is likely nearby and that they must slow down. Right now AI does not provide that type of inferential thinking, according to the report.

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But the technology is getting closer. New models already on the market are equipped with technology designed to assist with driving duties not found just a few years ago – including self-parallel parking, lane-drift warning signals, and cruise control adjustments.

Lawmakers are grappling with the new technology, too. Earlier this year the state of Nevada issued the first license for autonomous vehicles in the United States, while the California Legislature recently approved allowing the eventual testing of the vehicles on public roads. Florida is considering similar legislation.

"It's hard to say precisely when most people will be able to use self-driving cars," says Janin, who gets a "thumbs up" from a lot of people who recognize the car. "But it's exciting to know that this is clearly the direction that the technology and the industry are headed."

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At first glance, the student apartment at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman appears just like any other college housing: sparse furnishings, a laptop askew on the couch, a television and DVD player in the corner, a "student survival guide" sitting out stuffed with coupons for everything from haircuts to pizza.

But a closer examination reveals some unusual additions. The light switch on the wall adjoining the kitchen glows blue and white. Special sensors are affixed to the refrigerator, the cupboard doors, and the microwave. A water-flow gauge sits under the sink.

All are part of the CASAS Smart Home project at WSU, which is tapping AI technology to make the house operate more efficiently and improve the lives of its occupants, in this case several graduate students. The project began in 2006 under the direction of Diane Cook, a professor in The School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

A smart home set up by the WSU team might have 40 to 50 motion or heat sensors. No cameras or microphones are used, unlike some other projects across the country.

The motion sensors allow researchers to know where someone is in the home. They gather intelligence about the dwellers' habits. Once the system becomes familiar with an individual's movements, it can determine whether certain activities have happened or not, like the taking of medication or exercising. Knowing the time of day and what the person typically does "is usually enough to distinguish what [the person is] doing right now," says Dr. Cook.

A main focus of the WSU research is senior living. With the aging of baby boomers becoming an impending crisis for the health-care industry, Cook is searching for a way to allow older adults – especially those with dementia or mild impairments – to live independently for longer periods while decreasing the burden on caregivers. A large assisted-care facility in Seattle is now conducting smart-home technology research in 20 apartments for older individuals. A smart home could also monitor movements for clues about people's general health.

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