Bees, Brains, and Boats
Understanding how the human brain works promises vast leaps in computer system capability. But many tasks requiring advanced software can be performed with less complicated machinery. The honeybee has a much simpler brain than a human, but it can do a few things better. Remember, before GPS, getting lost returning to a place even if you’d been there before? Bees can forage six miles from a hive, find their way home, and return to the same spot the next day, even with poor eyesight, our cover story reports. “They’re consummate navigators, far in excess of the best robots we have available,” James A. R. Marshall, a professor of computational biology at Britain’s Sheffield University, tells writer Tom Grose. By reverse-engineering the bee’s brain, Marshall and his team hope, they can design unmanned aerial vehicles that are more efficient and versatile than drones available now.
As a center of scholarship and learning in artificial intelligence, Carnegie Mellon University was well positioned to respond to the nationwide surge in demand for computer science that Prism described in September. Now it has gone a step further, offering a major in AI. Deputy Editor Mary Lord, who went to Pittsburgh to witness the instruction firsthand, reports that it combines heavy math with real-world application of problem-solving techniques and ethics. Carnegie Mellon isn’t alone. The Milwaukee School of Engineering has also launched an AI major, and numerous schools, from MIT to the University of West Florida, are beefing up AI concentrations. It’s not hard to see why, with AI generating $1.2 trillion in business value worldwide and machine-learning specialists commanding premium salaries. So pervasive has it become that James Garrett, Carnegie Mellon’s engineering dean, tells Lord, “I see artificial intelligence being a core skill set” for every student, regardless of major.
In our third feature, Charles Q. Choi explores the centuries-old seafaring challenge of designing faster ships, which must now be fuel efficient and—with the Arctic opening up—able to withstand collisions with ice. The wide-ranging research to make this happen includes computer modeling, composite materials, and new ways of ridding hulls of barnacles.
We hope you enjoy the December Prism. All of us at ASEE extend best wishes for the holiday season.