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Illustration: Caresse Haaser/Axios

Big data got us here, but small data will get us the rest of the way. That's the mantra coming from AI researchers at the forefront of their field, who are casting about for the next big breakthrough.

Details: Inspired by how children learn, they are experimenting with methods that will allow them to train up AI systems with a tiny fraction of the inputs required today — and then set the systems loose on a new problem that they've never seen before.

Background: The deafening fuss around AI is driven by deep learning, a technique that allows machines to pick out subtle patterns from enormous datasets.

  • It's great for all sorts of lucrative and interesting tasks, like driving cars and reading brain scans. And it can get better and better as it eats up more data.
  • But amassing and labeling vast amounts of data is cumbersome and slow — or even impossible, when there's just not much information available.

The next frontier is AI that learns on its own, rather than being explicitly fed information, and algorithms that can take what they know in one arena and apply it to another — like kids learning how the world works.

Driving the news: A panel of leading AI scientists laid out the state of the art at Stanford on Monday, at the launch of the university's Institute for Human-Centered AI. Among the various stabs at solving the data problem:

  • Curiosity-based AI, which would find gaps in its knowledge and gather the missing data itself — like a two-year-old finding her way about the world, according to Berkeley psychology professor Alison Gopnik.
  • Transfer learning, the long-sought but still out-of-reach principle that an AI system can apply what it's learned in one domain to a similar one.
    • "Just like children, we think that to learn things about the world properly you need to be an active learner," said DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis.
    • "I really think that's the direction we need to be going in as the field: How do we actually build more general systems that can take … a new task and do well on that," said Jeff Dean, head of Google AI.
  • Compositional knowledge, the idea that computers can put together disparate experiences and pieces of information into a larger whole."The kind of thinking that Daniel Kahneman refers to as 'thinking slow' — that's the kind of thinking that we haven't really worked out how to get artificial intelligence to do," said Stanford computer scientist Christopher Manning.

Go deeper

Former D.C. Guard alleges Army Generals lied about Jan. 6 response

Members of the National Guard and Capitol police keep a small group of pro-Trump demonstrators away from the Capitol following the insurrection on Jan. 6. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A former D.C. National Guard official has alleged that top Army generals "lied" to Congress in their testimony on the U.S. Capitol riot, Politico first reported Monday.

The big picture: Col. Earl Matthews, who was serving on Jan. 6, alleges in a memo that the official version on the military response is "worthy of the best Stalinist or North Korea propagandist" and that the Pentagon inspector general's November report on it features "myriad inaccuracies, false or misleading statements, or examples of faulty analysis."

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: Toyota's Prius hybrid won environmental plaudits when it launched in 1997, but it has since lost ground to electric vehicle world leader Tesla, per Axios' Joann Muller. This battery plant will be the first to produce automotive batteries for Toyota in North America.

6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.