Wi-Fi Balloons Became a Great Example of Machine Learning

Friday, 17 February 2017 - 7:31PM
Artificial Intelligence
Weird Science
Friday, 17 February 2017 - 7:31PM
Wi-Fi Balloons Became a Great Example of Machine Learning
Wikimedia Commons
In this increasingly connected age, a major cause for concern is the availability of Internet access around the globe, or often the lack of Internet access around parts of the globe.

Enter Google's R&D company "X" (previously called Google X) which like Google itself, is always exploring cutting edge ideas. But for their latest trick, they're using a decidedly less modern technological approach: balloons. The concept, titled Project Loon, involves balloons filled with computers and machinery that can float high above the more remote areas of the world and beam down Wi-Fi signals; think of them essentially as floating cell phone towers. 

The idea, which conjures up memories of Pixar's Up, had an interesting development recently when the computers involved in the system seemed to be learning how to adapt to the changing wind patterns on their own. In order for the balloons to stay afloat in areas that need the signals most, the scientists programmed the computers with artificial intelligence that could adjust and even predict changing wind patterns in the air. These calculations would prove increasingly difficult for human scientists and researchers to predict, but the AI involved in Project Loon has so far met the task head on.

They've learned enough that far fewer balloons may end up getting used (for example, 10 balloons instead of 200 per area), since the existing ones can remain in their designated spots more consistently, for longer amounts of time. Even more incredible, this AI program technique, called Gaussian Processes or GP's, is able to make its calculations and predictions using far less data than previous programs, thus requiring less upkeep and oversight.

The best part is how this represents a first real life application to what's known as machine learning, essentially an AI program that's progressing and gaining more knowledge to be applied on its own. In the past, AI has shown the ability to adapt and learn in the digital realm, as we've recently covered.

However, for AI to actually be applying new knowledge and ability in the actual world outside of computer simulation is a further step into a wide open frontier, with internet connection for many more people as a big benefit.

Via: Wired


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