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Magic is just science that we don’t understand yet," said the late British science writer and futurist, Arthur C. Clarke.

It’s this very telling statement that has prompted us at Mint to introduce this quarterly to give you a glimpse into how science and technology are shaping our lives and our businesses. More importantly, experts will do their best to place these trends and developments in a business context to help you and executives take appropriate decisions.

For instance, despite yesterday’s science fiction becoming today’s reality, the fact is that robots today are still no match for the super-intelligent artificial intelligence (AI) machines like Skynet, or the androids and cyborgs that we get to see in sci-fi movies.

That, however, may not be the case for long. Some of the most exciting advances in AI have come about because of convolutional neural networks, defined as large virtual networks of simple information-processing units, loosely modelled on the anatomy of the human brain. Graphics processing units, or GPUs, have only speeded up AI’s progress because they can pack in more computation power than central processing units, or CPUs.

AI experts now predict that intelligent and semi-intelligent autonomous systems such as self-driving cars and autonomous drones “will march into our society" in the next two-three years, according to a 6 February briefing at the 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting.

With more than $1 billion spent in 2015 on AI research (as opposed to the “AI Winter" period of reduced funding), the experts also forecast that AI advances may threaten jobs and uncover a range of legal, regulatory and ethical issues. We have tried to cover some of these issues in our Cover Story: ‘Smart bots, robots gunning for our jobs: Can we do something about it?’

While experts like Moshe Vardi, professor of computer science and director of the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology at Rice University, expects the growing presence of intelligent machines in workforces to contribute to a phenomenon called “job polarization".

Technology luminaries such as Bill Gates, Elon Musk and physicist Stephen Hawking have expressed fear that robots with AI could rule mankind. But there are those who believe that AI machines can be controlled. Marvin Lee Minsky, who died this January, was an American cognitive scientist in the field of AI and co-founder of MIT’s AI laboratory. He did believe that some computers would eventually become more intelligent than most human beings, but hoped that researchers would make such computers benevolent to mankind.

Raymond “Ray" Kurzweil, an American author, computer scientist, inventor and futurist, has sought to allay such fears by pointing out that we can deploy strategies to keep emerging technologies like AI safe, and also underscoring the existence of ethical guidelines like Isaac Asimov’s three laws for robots, which can prevent—at least to some extent—smart machines from overpowering us. We can only hope that we humans devise equally smart policies to govern the behaviour of smart machines.

In other sections of this edition, we have taken a look at how concepts and technologies like blockchains, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things (IoT), deep learning, and Office of the Future are impacting business models. We also feature 10 cutting-edge start-ups and have a productivity guide which comprises gadgets, accessories and apps.

In coming editions, we sincerely hope to continue keeping you abreast of such trends. Your feedback to help us improve this product will be appreciated.

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