Giving Compass' Take:

• Larry Luxner reports that the Artificial Intelligence Center for Scientific Exploration, a $100 million initiative, is designed to help scientists develop AI to solve real-world problems. 

• How can funders effectively support the development of emerging technology? How can these development be made and dispersed equitably? 

• Learn about a competition for finding AI for social good

For years, Israeli scientist Tamar Flash has been fascinated with the octopus, and the unusual way the invertebrate’s eight arms propel it effortlessly through the water.

Her interest is no mere hobby. A renowned professor who does research in artificial intelligence at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Flash is using the octopus as a model for methods of diagnosis and treatment of disorders from Parkinson’s disease to autism.

“My major interest is the brain’s representation of movement, or the principles underlying the organization, control and perception of movement by humans,” Flash said. “The octopus has no bones. It’s totally soft. It’s just made of muscles.”

Modeling the movement of the octopus, she said, also may help scientists develop “soft” robots for rehabilitation clinics, search-and-rescue operations and even nursing homes.

“The first generation of robots were made of steel,” Flash said. “But if we want robots to help handicapped people, we had better make them from soft materials that can come in contact with humans without injuring them.”

Flash works at the Weizmann Institute’s new Artificial Intelligence Center for Scientific Exploration, a $100 million initiative. Hers is one of several projects at the center that seek to apply AI principles to real-life problems.

One of the world’s foremost multidisciplinary research institutions, Weizmann is investing heavily in the burgeoning field of AI. Its expertise in computer vision, machine learning and robotics — as well as a culture that encourages collaborations across disciplines — makes AI a natural fit.

More than half a dozen scientists from across the institute do AI-related research at the new center, which was launched about a year ago. The center’s director is Shimon Ullman, a world leader in computer vision who was awarded the 2015 Israel Prize in mathematics and computer science research.

Read the full article about $100 million for AI by Larry Luxner at Jewish Telegraphic Agency.