Photo: Adam Berry/Getty

Robots are getting pretty good at the repetitive, precise tasks that make up a good deal of factory and warehouse work. But place one in a home it's never seen before, or on a busy sidewalk, and it's likely to struggle to get around or do anything useful.

Driving the news: These chaotic scenarios — called "edge cases," because no two are the same — are the singular focus of a new robotics startup that was announced today. The high-powered venture wants to teach robots to think more like people in order to navigate the world.

The big picture: A wild debate has been raging in AI, and it's all about rules. One side says that machines should learn nearly everything from scratch; the other says that computers — like humans — must lean on some basic concepts about the world.

The team behind the new startup, Robust.AI, is firmly in the second camp.

  • One co-founder is Gary Marcus, an NYU psychologist and AI expert who carries the banner for scientists who don't believe AI can learn how to navigate through the world without some level of prior knowledge about how it works.
  • Another is Rodney Brooks, a legendary MIT roboticist who previously built Rethink Robotics, which sold factory robots meant to work alongside humans. Rethink folded last year.

No robot today can deliver a package all the way to any doorstep, or take care of an elderly person in their home. "For those kinds of situations, you need robots that can actually think for themselves — robots that can deal with an ever-changing world," Marcus says.

  • He argues that deep learning — a reigning AI technique that teaches machines patterns without any hard rules — can't do the job on its own.
  • "In order for these machines to reason and operate with more humanlike priors and a deeper understanding of the world, just brute-forcing deep learning is not going to get you there," says Peter Barrett, co-founder of VC firm Playground Global, which led the seed-round investment in Robust.AI.

Bringing back ideas from the era of symbolic AI — a focus on ground rules that died out in the 1980s — is a potential way forward, Barrett says. "I see it as absolutely necessary if we really want to close the gap between the tour de force mechanical capabilities of today's robots and their rather limited intellectual capacities."

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Hundreds gather to pay tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg along Supreme Court steps

Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

At the Supreme Court steps Friday night hundreds of people gathered to pay tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — singing in a candlelight vigil, with some in tears.

Details: If there is a singular mood at the Supreme Court tonight, it’s some kind of a daze manifested by silence. 

A court fight for the ages

The flag flies at half-staff as people mourn on the Supreme Court steps last night. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Ruth Bader Ginsburg — feminist icon, legal giant, toast of pop culture — left this statement with granddaughter Clara Spera as cancer closed in: "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."

The big picture: For all that the nation owes "Notorious RBG" — the hip-hop-inspired nickname she enjoyed and embraced — Republicans are planning to do their best to be sure her robe is quickly filled, despite that last wish, with her ideological polar opposite.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8:15 a.m. ET: 30,539,903 — Total deaths: 952,629— Total recoveries: 20,800,482Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8:15 a.m. ET: 6,726,353 — Total deaths: 198,603 — Total recoveries: 2,556,465 — Total tests: 92,163,649Map.
  3. Politics: In reversal, CDC again recommends coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people.
  4. Health: The dwindling chances of eliminating COVID-19 — Massive USPS face mask operation called off The risks of moving too fast on a vaccine.
  5. Business: Unemployment drop-off reverses course 1 million mortgage-holders fall through safety netHow the pandemic has deepened Boeing's 737 MAX crunch.
  6. Education: At least 42% of school employees are vulnerable.