Artificial intelligence is without question one of the most captivating and influential corners of the technology world today, but it’s also one of the noisiest.

To wrap our heads around the complicated mashup of subjects that coalesce to make coverage of the AI beat possible, we write the AI Weekly.

This is our sandbox of sorts, a place to let the most important topics that emerge in AI circles ruminate, stretch out, and find clarity. Naturally, a fair number of conceptual insights have emerged throughout the year.

So instead of diving deep into the news of the day, this week we’re looking back at some favorites from 2018 — topics with lasting impact and importance.

On the AI assistant front, we saw Alexa and Cortana begin to work together. Cortana is available on hundreds of millions of devices, and Echo is still the most popular smart speaker. Google has the Android operating system, though, an advantage that allows for a smart speaker and smartphone combination unlike any of its competitors.

That advantage is not insurmountable, however, because although Google took steps to improve its Assistant on Android smartphones, as ambient computing becomes more popular and people increasingly blurt out questions that come to mind, Alexa is beginning to eat into Google’s search dominance.

We documented how this fall Google, Facebook, and Amazon simultaneously fought major scandals while at the same time entering full pitch mode for smart displays, and we looked at the need for trust in AI assistant adoption.

We also took time to recognize the good that people are trying to accomplish with intelligent machines, like the multiple systems zeroing in on cardiovascular disease, the biggest killer in the world.

We also took a moment to note that President Trump should have listened to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has since resigned in protest, and formulated a national AI strategy like other nations, such as China, have done.

Also in Washington, we took a close look at how U.S. senators, many of them Democratic presidential candidates, have raised a lot of questions about facial recognition software, which could become a 2020 presidential campaign issue.

One of my favorites from Kyle Wiggers is about the danger that too much focus on apocalyptic AGI scenarios of the future will distract from pressing problems we face now. He also shared a collection of insights from NeurIPS (formerly NIPS) and covered the conflicts between business and government concerning autonomous driving regulation.

My favorite from former AI staff writer Blair Hanley Frank analyzed the way tech companies market AI solutions and proclaimed that Sensei, Watson, and Einstein must die.

I know I said I wouldn’t offer any conceptual scoops this week, but one insight does arise from this array of highlights.

In a recent conversation, I heard someone argue that AI is basically the same as previous tech paradigm shifts, like mobile and social, which have gone from being nascent interests to permeating our daily lives.

But artificial intelligence differs from such previous leaps in that it may end up infiltrating society on a level previously unimagined, extending from business to government to education and national defense.

That means it’s going to require understanding from and possible action by lawmakers, business leaders, military leaders, civil leaders, and the citizenry of democratic societies.

That’s probably why the AI Index 2018 report found a sharp rise in the number of mentions of AI by members of the U.S. Congress and British members of Parliament this year.

Enjoy 2019, and if there’s anything in particular you think we should be writing about in the newsletter or our coverage, feel free to email Kyle Wiggers at kyle.wiggers@venturebeat.com or me at khari@venturebeat.com.

Thanks for reading,

Khari Johnson
AI Staff Writer

P.S. Please enjoy this video from Nvidia of fabricated AI faces generated from the faces of real people.

From VB

Suwon city, South Korea 18-November 2017. The Samsung head office building.

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New AI computer vision system mimics how humans visualize and identify objects

Donald Knuth, master of algorithms, reflects on 50 years of his opus-in-progress, “The Art of Computer Programming.” (via Science Daily)

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Researchers at Descartes Labs are using artificial intelligence to make a better map of the urban tree canopy. (via CityLab)

Robotic creepy-crawlies climb walls

Two teams of researchers exploit electrostatic forces to send mini-bots up vertical surfaces. Andrew Masterson reports. (via Cosmos)