Last Week in AI #139: DeepMind acquires MuJoCo physics simulator and releases it for free, UK schools warned over facial recognition, Google lawyers slow down internal AI research

DeepMind acquired and made MuJoCo free w/ plans to open source, UK government warns schools to avoid facial-recognition payment systems, Google lawyers reportedly slow down research, and more!

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Opening up a physics simulator for robotics

Last week, Google-backed AI research lab Deepmind announced that it has acquired the physics simulator MuJoCo (which stands for MuJoCo, which stands for Multi-Joint Dynamics with Contact). This simulator has long been relied upon by many robotics researchers to develop and test deep reinforcement learning algorithms, along with PyBullet and several other Physics simulators. Deepmind also announced that MuJoCo will now be freely available, with it having required a paid license in the past unlike alternatives to it, and also committed to making it an open-source and community-driven project. AI researchers generally regarded this as good news, with many welcoming MuJoCo becoming free and gaining such a powerful backer in Deepmind.

More on this - On the use of simulation in robotics: Opportunities, challenges, and suggestions for moving forward

Schools warned over facial recognition systems

Facial recognition is finding its way into more and more parts of our lives. In the UK, a few schools have started allowing students to make contactless payments with the technology. While the North Ayrshire council says it helped reduce Covid risks, a few actors pushed back. The Information Commissioner's Office said the schools should "carefully consider the necessity and proportionality of collecting biometric data before they do so" and consider less intrusive methods of letting students pay for meals. While a spokesman for the council said most people involved had consented to the use of facial recognition, it stands to reason that using such an obviously intrusive technology on children should be carefully thought through before being implemented. Early adopters of any technology for a new purpose will set a precedent in how they decide to use that technology. Schools should think through their role carefully.

Google's AI researchers say their output is being slowed by lawyers after a string of high-level exits: 'Getting published really is a nightmare right now.'

Some Google AI researchers have reported that internal research reviews by lawyers have slowed down the pace of paper publications. This follows the controversies at Google's Ethical AI team, where the exit of multiple high-profile researchers last year created a "chilling" effect in internal research teams. As a result, there appears to be increased scrutiny at the company, where even "uncontentious studies" are being brought to a standstill. However, a Google spokesperson states that the rate of internal paper approvals is on track with last year's numbers, so perhaps internal review effort only increased in specific research areas, not and not across the entire organization.

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