US military actually called its ‘artificial brain’ experiment Sentient

2 Aug 2019

Image: © monsitj/

This week in future tech, a secret US military project dubbed Sentient was revealed, which is attempting to build an ‘artificial brain’.

In a story that screams Skynet, The Verge uncovered classified documents that showed the US military and various intelligence agencies have been working on an artificial brain. Known as the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) Sentient programme, it aims to create an AI capable of coordinating military satellite positions and, in the near future, battlefield operations.

Its first major R&D milestone occurred in 2013, but any details on what that achievement was – along with many other details – remain top secret. Speaking with The Verge, the NRO’s deputy director of public affairs, Karen Furgerson, would only reiterate this stance.

“The NRO’s and the intelligence community’s standard practice is to not disclose sensitive sources and methods, as such disclosure introduces high risk of adversary nations’ countering them,” she said.

“Such loss harms our nation and its allies; it decreases US information advantage and national security. For those reasons, details about Sentient remain classified and what we can say about it is limited.”

In what capacity – and when it will be brought into service – is also a compete unknown.

Robot waiter named after Theresa May launches in the UK

Named after former British prime minister Theresa May, ‘The Maybot’ robotic waiter is to start serving customers at a chain of restaurants in the UK run by The Tea Terrace. It claims it is first in the UK and Europe to introduce a robotic waiter to serve its customers, in what it says will be a pilot for the introduction of more robots in “in the face of rising labour costs”.

The chain has made a name for itself with tech-based publicity events, having launched a ‘selfieccino’ service where a customer’s selfie is printed on to their coffee using edible food colouring.

“If Theresa senses a person in its route, it will stop and then frown and ask the person to move out of its way before she continues on her way,” said Ehab Shouly, managing director of The Tea Terrace. “This is part of the safety mechanism we developed for her with the robotics laboratory that manufactured Theresa for us in Japan.”

Shouly also said that bringing in robot waiters would be beneficial because “restaurants are spiralling out of control due to onerous business rates and taxes”.

Toyota reveals range of mobility robots for Tokyo 2020 events

Toyota has revealed a series of robots that will be ever-present at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo next year to provide mobility solutions for people at various locations and venues.

These include a small mascot robot that welcomes athletes and guests to venues, equipped with a camera in its head, a humanoid robot that could let someone high-five an athlete remotely, a telepresence robot and a field event support robot on four wheels.

“Mobility for all is not only the physical movement of a person or thing from one location to another, but also includes virtual mobility of a person,” said Nobuhiko Koga, chief officer of Toyota’s Frontier Research Centre. “This provides further opportunities to experience new things, meet and interact with others, or to be moved emotionally.”

Voice assistant tech to boom with greater Chinese influence

New data from Juniper Research has found that the number of voice assistants used to access smart home devices will reach 555m by 2024, up from 105m in 2019. By 2024, the market research firm expects more than 90pc of voice assistants to be used to control smart home devices, driven by increased participation from Chinese manufacturers.

The research found that Amazon currently leads the way, with heavy investment from its Alexa Fund and Alexa Skills access enabling a vast third-party app ecosystem. Recent high-profile acquisitions such as Blink, Ring and Eero will further bolster the company’s ability to innovate across the smart home.

However, while current penetration of voice assistants is low in China, it’s anticipated that low-cost smart speakers will drive usage of assistants in China in the smart home to over 100m in 2024, from just 4m in 2019. These will remain largely within China given ongoing security concerns with Huawei and other Chinese companies exporting to international markets.

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic