Is your favorite skin remedy BAD for you? How petroleum jelly can ‘suffocate pores, aggravate acne and cause pneumonia’

By  Sadie Whitelocks

PUBLISHED: 08:20 EST, 25  October 2013 |  UPDATED: 17:19 EST, 25 October 2013

Petroleum jelly is widely considered a  bathroom cabinet essential for its skin-soothing properties, but one New York  dermatologist warns that it could be doing more bad than good.

Dr. Alan Dattner, founder of told the Huffington Post that the ointment – a  by-product of the oil industry – can suffocate pores, aggravate acne and even  cause a rare form of pneumonia if inhaled.

He points out that of all the petroleum  jellies on the market, Vaseline is probably the safest as it is  ‘highly-refined’, whereas cheaper alternatives are more likely to contain  cancer-causing chemicals.

Bathroom cabinet essential: Petroleum jelly is known for its skin-soothing properties, but one New York dermatologist warns that it could be doing more bad than good 

Bathroom cabinet essential: Petroleum jelly is known for  its skin-soothing properties, but one New York dermatologist warns that it could  be doing more bad than good


‘Vaseline supposedly has all of these  [components] removed,’ Dr. Dattner says.

‘But there are probably plenty  of petroleum  jelly imitators, and one doesn’t always know the extent  that they’re removed.’

Indeed, a spokesperson for the Vaseline,  which launched in Brooklyn, New York, in 1870, told MailOnline that it only uses  FDA approved-petroleum jelly.

‘The brand prides itself on its rich skin  healing heritage. For over 140 years, Vaseline Petroleum Jelly has helped heal  and protect millions of people and families around the world.’

Its website states that applying Vaseline on  a regular basis will help ‘heal dry skin’ as well as ‘protect minor cuts’ and  ‘reduce the appearance of fine, dry lines.’

Some  products are absorbed into the skin, so it’s nice to use something that you  wouldn’t mind putting into your body’

However, celebrity make-up artist Katey  Denno, whose clients include Christy Turlington and Amanda Seyfried, is  not a  fan of petroleum jelly, whatever the brand.

‘It’s an inexpensive way for a formulator to  offer the appearance and immediate feel of hydrated skin,’ she said.

Like Dr. Dattner, Ms Denno claims, if used to  often, the gel can irritate the skin because of its thick texture that merely  ‘seals in the dirt.’

She recommends always washing and cleansing  the skin before applying any form of moisturizer to avoid  breakouts.

Giving his verdict, Dr. Dattner says it is  best to opt for more natural products. His top skin healing ingredients include  beeswax, coconut oil, olive oil, shea butter and cocoa butter.

‘Remember that some of these products are  absorbed into the skin, so it’s nice to use something that you wouldn’t mind  putting into your body.’

Share or comment on this article

Read more: Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Counting calories is ‘virtually meaningless’ because we all digest food differently

  • 170 calories labelled on a serving of  almonds can be closer to 129 calories
  • However, calories in processed foods can  often exceed the labelling
  • This is because people digest differently  due to the type bacteria in their gut
  • Instead of reading labels for calories, a  more reliable approach to lose weight may be to  stick to raw or wholefoods  which are harder to digest

By  Nick Mcdermott, Science Reporter

PUBLISHED: 12:09 EST, 20  August 2013 |  UPDATED: 19:34 EST, 20 August 2013

Don’t rely on counting calories if you want  to lose weight, scientists warn.

Much of the nutritional data on labels is  based on outdated 19th century science.

And the way food is cooked – as well as an  individual’s metabolism – can make a  dramatic difference to how many  calories  are absorbed.

A nutritional label 

Scientists warn the number of calories on nutritional  labels can differ wildly from those we actually absorb. One reason is that many  foods simply pass through the body undigested, as we lack the tools to break  down seeds and tough fibres


A study found that instead of the 170  calories in a one ounce serving of raw almonds, only 129 calories are taken in.

In contrast, when eating processed foods such  as sugary cereals, the number of calories often exceeds the labelling.

Mice fed raw sweet potatoes lost more than  four grams of weight, while they  gained weight when given the same amount of  cooked food.

Another problem is that even if food is  cooked in the same way, each individual digests it differently thanks to the  type and abundance of bacteria in  their gut.

The obese may  have an over-abundance of  certain types of gut bacteria, making them  more efficient at absorbing  calories. Biologist Rob Dunn from North  Carolina State University said the  current system of calculating calorie labels is outdated.

Writing in the journal Scientific American,  he said: ‘In the end, we all want  to know how to make the smartest choices at  the supermarket.


A study last year found that instead of 170 calories in  a one ounce serving of raw almonds, closer to 129 calories are actually taken in  – a 25 per cent difference


Merely  counting calories based on food  labels is an overly-simplistic approach  to eating a healthy diet – one that  does not necessarily improve our  health.’

For those intent  on losing weight, instead  of reading the calories, a more reliable  approach may be to stick to raw or  whole foods which are harder to  digest.

A cheese sandwich  made with wholewheat bread  is harder to digest than one using a white  loaf. As a result, the former has 10  per cent fewer calories.

Food experts also warn that calorie labelling  has for years ignored the  energy content of fibre. This means that dieters have  been ‘unknowingly’ eating more calories than they thought in their muesli or  porridge.

As a result, an average bowl of bran cereal  contains an extra 20 calories, they claim. The calorie content of protein has  also been exaggerated by up to 20 per cent because the current system does not  take into account the extra energy used in chewing.

Young woman eating 

In contrast, when eating processed foods such as sugary  cereals, the amount of calories we receive can exceed the labelling. For those  intent on losing weight, instead of reading the calories, a more reliable  approach may be to stick to raw or wholefoods which are harder to digest, claim  scientists

Read more: Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

What comes up when I type ” White People Shou” – “Black People Shou” – “Mexican People Shou”

Hmmm.  Is it Racism, or Inciting? Yes When I typed Hispanic or Mexican there was no predictive behavior… I myself like everyone who has a good heart 😉

ScreenHunter_39 Jul. 20 19.45

ScreenHunter_40 Jul. 20 19.47 ScreenHunter_41 Jul. 20 19.49

ScreenHunter_43 Jul. 20 20.05 ScreenHunter_42 Jul. 20 20.04

Plants’ Exposure to Light Influences Organic Weed Control Methods

ScienceDaily (Nov. 15, 2012) — The popularity of organic foods and products continues to climb, creating greater demand for organic agriculture. Effective natural alternatives to synthetic chemical weed and pest management are needed to meet organic standards. Essential oils, such as clove oil, offer an avenue to explore.

The journal Weed Science reports on a study of the impact of clove oil on purple sprouting broccoli and common lambsquarters. These plants were grown from seeds in greenhouse and outdoor conditions and exposed to varying concentrations of clove oil and degrees of light intensity.

Clove oil is an excellent option for organic farming because of its strong fungicidal, insecticidal, and herbicidal properties. It is available as a commercial herbicide.

In this study, the three major constituents of clove bud oil, eugenol, β-caryophyllene, and α-humulene, were examined for their individual effects on plants. Only eugenol showed a significant impact on the plants, damaging their cellular membranes.

Light intensity can also affect the efficacy of clove oil with plants. Solar intensity can create a thicker layer of epicuticular wax on leaves, acting as a protective barrier. In this study, electrolyte leakage from leaf discs sprayed with clove oil decreased as light intensity increased. Therefore, plants’ exposure to light before they are sprayed with clove oil could play a role in how well the oil controls the plants.


Doll’s hair at Japan shrine keeps growing


Awashima Shrine in Japan is known as the shrine of “memorial dolls”.


It is a place where dolls are given as offerings.


The shrine is filled with countless dolls and figures of all types.


According to reports, there is a doll whose hair grows. However, that particular doll is currently not available for viewing.


Many say the shrine has a mysterious energy to it. Some say that the place might even be haunted due to superstition that dolls carry spirits.


However, if visited on a bright, cheery day, the place gives off a colourful energy and is a fun place to be for all doll lovers. People get to be memerised by intricately designed dolls inspired by different stories and legends.



Eat your way to a facelift: Watercress is the latest wonder food in battle against ageing

  • Study showed 10 out of 11 females experienced  visible improvements to their skin
  • 7 out of 11 saw an improvement in their  wrinkles
  • Watercress contains  more  vitamin C than oranges, four times more beta-carotene and vitamin A than  apples, tomatoes and broccoli

By Bianca London

PUBLISHED:11:17 EST, 12  October 2012| UPDATED:11:17 EST, 12 October 2012


If you want to roll back the years, forget  expensive lotions and potions and instead reach for something more natural (and  cheap): a bag of watercress.

The old adage of beauty coming from within  has been borne out by a new study in which 10 out of 11 female volunteers  experienced visible improvements to their skin after just four weeks of adding  one bag of watercress a day to their diet.

One woman even managed to reduce her facial  wrinkles by an incredible 39 per cent.

Forget expensive creams, a recent study shows that adding one bag of watercress a day to your diet can improve your skin tone and reduce wrinkles 

Forget expensive creams, a recent study shows that  adding one bag of watercress a day to your diet can improve your skin tone and  reduce wrinkles

The women, who ranged in age from 23 to 58,  began the trial by having their faces photographed using a VISIA complexion  analysis system which gives a subsurface reading of an individual’s skin and  focuses on wrinkles, texture (the balance between oily and dry areas) pores, UV  spots, brown spots, red areas (any underlying redness, inflammation, sensitivity  or thinner skin) and porphyrins (levels of bacteria on the skin).


•    10 out of 11 volunteers  saw a positive improvement in their skin

•    7 out of 11 saw an  improvement in their wrinkles

•    8 out of 11 saw an  improvement in the texture* of their skin

•    9 out of 11 saw an  improvement in their pores

•    5 out of 11 saw an  improvement in their red areas

•    8 out of 11 saw an  improvement in the levels of porphyrins

•    5 out of 11 saw an  improvement in their brown spots

•    3 out of 11 saw an  improvement in their UV spots

After four weeks of eating 80g of watercress  a day the volunteers had their skin reassessed by the VISIA camera, and the  results were extremely positive.

The majority of women also reported increased  energy levels.

During the trial the volunteers made no other  changes to their usual health and beauty regime.

They were allowed to eat their daily quota of  watercress in any way they chose – in salads, sandwiches, whizzed into smoothies  or wilted into pasta, however it was not allowed to be cooked.

One of the success stories of the study was  Ruth McKechnie, 54, a theatre training teacher from Cambridge who saw a 39 per  cent improvement in her wrinkles, 13 per cent improvement in her skin texture, 5  per cent per cent reduction in brown spots and 18 per cent improvement in her  levels of bacteria.

She said: ‘I’m absolutely thrilled with the  results of the trial and astounded at how my skin has improved in almost every  aspect.

‘It feels smoother to touch, looks plumper  and best of all my wrinkles have reduced! I had a particularly stressful few  weeks at work and thought it would have a negative effect on my skin so to see  such an improvement really is impressive.

‘I have also felt more energised and  generally healthier which has helped me deal with the stress. Watercress will  certainly be top of my shopping list from now onwards.’

Throughout history, eminent philosophers and  doctors have revered the health boosting properties of watercress from the  pharaohs in Egypt and the ancient Greeks, to the Romans and  Anglo-Saxons.

Now, sophisticated science techniques have  confirmed folklore beliefs.

Philosophers and doctors have raved about the benefits of watercress for yearsPhilosophers and doctors have raved about the benefits  of watercress for years

Dr Sarah Schenker, a leading nutritionist  and dietician who oversaw the study, said: ‘Watercress is a rich source of beta  carotene needed to quench free radicals, which can cause damage to skin cells.

‘However, in order to work properly a high  concentration of Vitamin C is also needed to complete this process and  watercress again has this in abundance.

‘In addition watercress contains Vitamin E  which is also important for skin health.  It is this powerhouse of  nutrients and the chain reaction in which they work together which is so  important for maintaining good skin.’

There are plenty of delicious ways that watercress can be incorporated into your dietThere are plenty of delicious ways that watercress can  be incorporated into your diet

Sarah added: ‘This study confirms that diet  is an important aspect of beauty. Eating plenty of plant foods including  watercress cannot only help to slow down the ageing of our skin, but may  actually reverse some of the effects of damage.’

Watercress Alliance member Dr. Steve  Rothwell, who holds a PhD in watercress explained: ‘There have been a whole host  of scientific studies that have shown that B Carotene can help reduce the ageing  of skin, so we were encouraged to carry out our own small pilot study using  fresh watercress.

‘We were delighted with the results of the  new pilot study which may now be used to secure funding for a larger scale  university research programme, as the findings have proved so  conclusive.

Read more: Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Where is everybody?

Picture of the DaySep. 27, 2012 – 06:52AM JST

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday. Noda spoke about Japan’s territorial disputes with China and South Korea and said that issues should be resolved peacefully, according to rule of law, and not through force.

Is your scent making you ill? Today’s obsession with perfuming everything from candles to bin liners could be to blame

By Victoria Lambert

PUBLISHED:16:34 EST, 17  September 2012| UPDATED:16:45 EST, 17 September 2012

Nearly a third of people may suffer adverse health effects from being exposed to scentsNearly a third of people may suffer adverse health  effects from being exposed to scents

The smell of fresh air is becoming something  of a distant memory, thanks to our increasing use of fragrance. From air  fresheners to scented candles, perfumed loo roll and bin liners, in-car scents  and even scented socks, we live in a miasma of scent.

Share a lift or train carriage and the aroma  of spray deodorant and perfume can be overwhelming. Recent figures show seven in  ten use air fresheners or scented candles to keep our homes smelling sweet.

Yet recent reports suggest that perfumed  products could affect our health, causing problems including allergies, asthma  and migraine, and even interfere with sexual desire.

One leading expert suggests nearly a third of  people suffer adverse health effects from being exposed to scents. A major  problem is so-called ‘contact’ allergy — where perfumes and scented products  trigger eczema and dermatitis when they come into contact with  skin.

Molecules in the product trigger an immune  response, causing itchiness and even scaly, cracked skin.

About one in 20 is thought to be affected by  fragrance allergy — though this number may be growing.

‘Allergies are on the increase, and the  amount of perfumed products is also on the rise,’ says Dr Susannah Baron,  consultant dermatologist at Kent & Canterbury hospital, and BMI Chaucer  Hospital.

‘Fragrance allergy can show up as contact  dermatitis in the site a perfumed product is applied, or as a flare-up of  existing eczema. It can be a real problem.’

In July, the EU Scientific Committee on  Consumer Safety asked perfume manufacturers to list potential allergens in their  product after reports that they triggered skin reactions.

Earlier this year, the U.S. state of New  Hampshire banned workers from wearing scents to protect their co-workers.

Often it may not be immediately obvious that  you’ve developed a fragrance allergy, says Dr Baron.

‘You don’t react immediately; the body notes  that it does not like the chemical and develops “memory cells”, which cause  inflammation when the body is next exposed to this chemical.

‘Gradually, as you are exposed more and more,  the body ramps up its reaction, until it becomes more noticeable to you.’

People with pre-existing eczema are  particularly vulnerable. ‘The eczema worsens in areas in  contact with  perfumes or perfume- containing shampoos, conditioners and shower gels,’ says Dr  Baron.

But even those without allergies can be at  risk of fragrance allergy.

‘You can become suddenly allergic to perfumes  and personal care products that you have been using for years.

‘You can also have problems with unexpected  products such as scented toilet roll and scented wipes which can cause  irritation.’

And strong scents can also cause headaches.

According to Dr Vincent Martin, a headache  specialist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, fragrances  activate the nose’s nerve cells, stimulating the nerve system associated with  head pain.

UK charity Migraine Action warns that intense  or penetrating smells can even trigger migraine for the same reason.

To minimise risks, migraine sufferers are  advised to keep diaries of all triggers including scent, so they can minimise  contact.

Meanwhile, products such as plug-in  deodorisers and even mild air fresheners contain chemicals that could  trigger  asthma attacks, experts have warned.

Charity Asthma UK says that perfumes can  irritate the airways in those with asthma, causing breathing  problems.

Dr Stanley Fineman, of the Atlanta Allergy  and Asthma Clinic in the U.S.,  says those with asthma are especially sensitive,  and that his research  indicates a change in lung function when exposed to  certain chemical  fragrances.

People with eczema are particularly vulnerable to perfumes and should wash with non-fragranced emollient products
People with eczema are particularly vulnerable to  perfumes and should wash with non-fragranced emollient products

The fashion for scented intimate products can  be linked to health issues, too, says Dr Sovra Whitcroft, a gynaecologist at the  Surrey Park Clinic, Guildford.

‘The problem with perfumed products is that  they change the natural pH or acidity of the vagina.

‘The normal pH is four to five. If this is  altered and made less acidic, it loses its natural protection and bacteria are  allowed to thrive and multiply. The very product designed to improve body odour  can, in a short space of time, do the opposite by contributing to an overgrowth  of odour-producing bacteria.

‘And many strong chemicals and perfumes can  have a direct irritant effect on the sensitive mucosal lining of the vagina as  well as the relatively thin and delicate skin, causing contact dermatitis or  inflammation. This can make the area more prone to harbouring bacteria, causing  secondary infections.

‘In the longer term, if products containing  talcum powder are sprayed around the vaginal area, the tiny particles can be  driven up into the female reproductive system.

‘There have been many studies suggesting a  link between these talcum particles and ovarian cancer and while it is difficult  to know whether these results are true, it is important to steer clear from  anything which can cause such potential harm.

‘The truth is as long as a woman is healthy,  washes thoroughly with soap and water frequently and changes her underwear every  day there should be no need for cover-up deodorants. Using a chemical perfume to  cover potential odours may mask an underlying infection or even cause  one.’

Commonly used chemicals in fragrances include  synthetic musk, linked to hormone disruption.

A 2009 study of Austrian college students  published in the journal Science of the Total Environment found that those who  used the most perfume and scented lotion also had the highest levels of  synthetic musks, including Galaxolide and Tonalide, in their  blood.

These can bind to and stimulate human  oestrogen receptors; they have also been shown to affect male hormone receptors.

‘Fragrance suggests cleanliness — yet people  are smelling a potentially hazardous chemical mixture,’ says Anne Steinemann,  professor of civil and environmental engineering and public affairs at the  University of Washington, who has investigated the effects of scents on public  health for more than a decade. ‘We often use them to mask one problem — as with  air fresheners — but create a greater one — adding toxic chemicals to the  air.’

Two surveys she did found more than 30 per  cent of the public report adverse health effects from being exposed to scents in  ordinary life.

‘Since then, I have received thousands of  messages from people all over the world saying they get sick around fragranced  products.

‘They are suffering seizures, losing  consciousness, can’t concentrate on work, as well as suffering  rashes, migraine headaches and asthma attacks.’

Longer term, our obsession with artificial  scent may even affect sexual desire, suggest Mel Rosenberg, professor of  microbiology at Tel Aviv University.

‘For thousands of years, we’ve been applying  the natural scents of flowers and animals to attract people and to appear more  sexually attractive,’ he says.

‘Now we have learned how to replicate natural  smells identically and to create chemical fragrances much more cheaply.

‘We fragrance our world so much that if odour  recognition is important in sexual biology, and I believe it is vital, we are  falling for the wrong people.

‘You could fall in love with a girl because  of the scent of her hair conditioner, not her natural hormones.

‘We should pick a mate by natural odour.  That’s why we traditionally go dancing and play sports — where we get natural  odours.’

The biggest problem is detecting the  substance to blame. Since the body reacts slowly, an affected part of skin could  have been touched by fragranced soap or deodorant, or clothes washed in  fragranced powder as much as perfume applied directly. So finding a culprit is  hard.

Lindsey McManus of charity Allergy UK warns: ‘Many chemicals have the potential to irritate skin, including rubber or  formaldehyde, which is added to preserve the fragrance. People have to be their  own detectives.’

But it is not just chemicals we have to watch  out for: Dr Baron cites a natural ingredient — balsam of Peru (a sticky aromatic  liquid that comes from cutting the bark of the tree Myroxyolon balsamum,) which  is common in fragrances — as a trigger for fragrance allergy.

Would reducing the number of scents  surrounding us help? Dr Baron does not think it is the number of fragrances  around us that may be responsible for rising numbers of cases, ‘but there are  more cases of eczema so that increases the chance of contact allergies  developing’.

She recommends that if you do have sensitive  or eczema-prone skin, use non-fragranced products if possible in order to  prevent an allergic reaction.

Eczema sufferers should limit their use of  soap and instead wash with non-fragranced emollient products.

But avoiding all perfume is not an easy task.  Though you can have allergy testing for the constituents in fragrances and other  common allergens at your local dermatology department, we are surrounded by  scented products.

‘Even if you know which fragrance causes a  problem, it can be difficult to avoid as most personal care products — soap,  shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, sun cream, shaving gel and washing powder — contain fragrances,’ says Dr Baron.

Read more:

How artificial intelligence is changing our lives

Artificial intelligence image via All rights reserved.

By The Christian Science Monitor
Sunday, September 16, 2012 13:38 EDT

In Silicon Valley, Nikolas Janin rises for his 40-minute commute to work just like everyone else. The shop manager and fleet technician at Google gets dressed and heads out to his Lexus RX 450h for the trip on California‘s clotted freeways. That’s when his chauffeur – the car – takes over. One of Google’s self-driving vehicles, Mr. Janin’s ride is equipped with sophisticated artificial intelligence technology that allows him to sit as a passenger in the driver’s seat.

At iRobot Corporation in Bedford, Mass., a visitor watches as a five-foot-tall Ava robot independently navigates down a hallway, carefully avoiding obstacles – including people. Its first real job, expected later this year, will be as a telemedicine robot, allowing a specialist thousands of miles away to visit patients’ hospital rooms via a video screen mounted as its “head.” When the physician is ready to visit another patient, he taps the new location on a computer map: Ava finds its own way to the next room, including using the elevator.

In Pullman, Wash., researchers at Washington State University are fitting “smart” homes with sensors that automatically adjust the lighting needed in rooms and monitor and interpret all the movements and actions of its occupants, down to how many hours they sleep and minutes they exercise. It may sound a bit like being under house arrest, but in fact boosters see such technology as a sort of benevolent nanny: Smart homes could help senior citizens, especially those facing physical and mental challenges, live independently longer.

From the Curiosity space probe that landed on Mars this summer without human help, to the cars whose dashboards we can now talk to, to smart phones that are in effect our own concierges, so-called artificial intelligence is changing our lives – sometimes in ways that are obvious and visible, but often in subtle and invisible forms. AI is making Internet searches more nimble, translating texts from one language to another, and recommending a better route through traffic. It helps detect fraudulent patterns in credit-card searches and tells us when we’ve veered over the center line while driving.

Even your toaster is about to join the AI revolution. You’ll put a bagel in it, take a picture with your smart phone, and the phone will send the toaster all the information it needs to brown it perfectly.

In a sense, AI has become almost mundanely ubiquitous, from the intelligent sensors that set the aperture and shutter speed in digital cameras, to the heat and humidity probes in dryers, to the automatic parking feature in cars. And more applications are tumbling out of labs and laptops by the hour.

“It’s an exciting world,” says Colin Angle, chairman and cofounder of iRobot, which has brought a number of smart products, including the Roomba vacuum cleaner, to consumers in the past decade.

What may be most surprising about AI today, in fact, is how little amazement it creates. Perhaps science-fiction stories with humanlike androids, from the charming Data (“Star Trek“) to the obsequious C-3PO (“Star Wars”) to the sinister Terminator, have raised unrealistic expectations. Or maybe human nature just doesn’t stay amazed for long.

“Today’s mind-popping, eye-popping technology in 18 months will be as blasé and old as a 1980 pair of double-knit trousers,” says Paul Saffo, a futurist and managing director of foresight at Discern Analytics in San Francisco. “Our expectations are a moving target.”

If Siri, the voice-recognition program in newer iPhones and seen in highly visible TV ads, had come out in 1980, “it would have been the most astonishing, breathtaking thing,” he says. “But by the time Siri had come, we were so used to other things going on we said, ‘Oh, yeah, no big deal.’ Technology goes from magic to invisible-and-taken-for-granted in about two nanoseconds.”

* * *

In one important sense, the quest for AI has been a colossal failure. The Turing test, proposed by British mathematician Alan Turing in 1950 as a way to verify machine intelligence, gauges whether a computer can fool a human into thinking another human is speaking during short conversation via text (in Turing’s day by teletype, today by online chat). The test sets a low bar: The computer doesn’t have to be able to really think like a human; it only has to seem to be human. Yet more than six decades later no AI program has passed Turing’s test (though an effort this summer did come close).

The ability to create machine intelligence that mimics human thinking would be a tremendous scientific accomplishment, enabling humans to understand their own thought processes better. But even experts in the field won’t promise when, or even if, this will happen.

“We’re a long way from [humanlike AI], and we’re not really on a track toward that because we don’t understand enough about what makes people intelligent and how people solve problems,” says Robert Lindsay, professor emeritus of psychology and computer science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and author of “Understanding Understanding: Natural and Artificial Intelligence.”

“The brain is such a great mystery,” adds Patrick Winston, professor of artificial intelligence and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “There’s some engineering in there that we just don’t understand.”

Instead, in recent years the definition of AI has gradually broadened. “Ten years ago, if you asked me if Watson [the computer that defeated all human opponents on the quiz show “Jeopardy!“] was intelligent, I’d probably argue that it wasn’t because it was missing something,” Dr. Winston says. But now, he adds, “Watson certainly is intelligent. It’s a certain kind of intelligence.”

The idea that AI must mimic the thinking process of humans has dropped away. “Creating artificial intelligences that are like humans is, at the end of the day, paving the cow paths,” Mr. Saffo argues. “It’s using the new technology to imitate some old thing.”

Entrepreneurs like iRobot’s Mr. Angle aren’t fussing over whether today’s clever gadgets represent “true” AI, or worrying about when, or if, their robots will ever be self-aware. Starting with Roomba, which marks its 10th birthday this month, his company has produced a stream of practical robots that do “dull, dirty, or dangerous” jobs in the home or on the battlefield. These range from smart machines that clean floors and gutters to the thousands of PackBots and other robot models used by the US military for reconnaissance and bomb disposal.

While robots in particular seem to fascinate humans, especially if they are designed to look like us, they represent only one visible form of AI. Two other developments are poised to fundamentally change the way we use the technology: voice recognition and self-driving cars.

* * *

In the 1986 sci-fi film “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the engineer of the 23rd century starship Enterprise, Scotty, tries to talk to a 20th-century computer.

Scotty: “Computer? Computer??”

He’s handed a computer mouse and speaks into it.

Scotty: “Ah, hello Computer!”


20th-century scientist: “Just use the keyboard.”

Scotty: “A keyboard? How quaint!”

Computers that easily understand what we say, or perhaps watch our gestures and anticipate what we want, have long been a goal of AI. Siri, the AI-powered “personal assistant” built into newer iPhones, has gained wide attention for doing the best job yet, even though it’s often as much mocked for what it doesn’t understand as admired for what it does.

Apple’s Siri – and other AI-infused voice-recognition software such as Google’s voice search – is important not only for what it can do now, like make a phone call or schedule an appointment, but for what it portends. Siri might understand human conversation at the level of a kindergartner, but it still is magnitudes ahead of earlier voice-recognition programs.

“Siri is a big deal,” says Saffo. It’s a step toward “devices that we interact with in ever less formal ways. We’re in an age where we’re using the technology we have to create ever more empathetic devices. Soon it will become de rigueur for all applications to offer spoken interaction…. In fact, we consumers will be surprised and disappointed if or when they don’t.”

Siri is a first step toward the ultimate vision of a VPA (virtual personal assistant), say Norman Winarsky and Bill Mark, who teamed up to develop Siri at the research firm SRI International before the software was bought by Apple. “Siri required not just speech recognition, but also understanding of natural language, context, and ultimately, reasoning (itself the domain of most artificial intelligence research today)…. We think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg,” they wrote in an article on TechCrunch last spring.

In the near future, VPAs will become more useful, helping humans do tasks such as weigh health-care alternatives, plan a vacation, and buy clothes.

Or drive your car. Vehicles that pilot themselves and leave humans as passive passengers are already being road-tested. “I expect it to happen,” says AI expert Mr. Lindsay. One advantage, he says, tongue in cheek: A vehicle driven by AI “won’t get distracted by putting on its makeup.”

While Google’s Janin rides in a self-driving car, he doesn’t talk on the phone, read his favorite blogs, or even sneak in a little catnap on the way to work – all tempting diversions. Instead, he analyzes and monitors the data derived from the car as it makes its way from his home in Santa Clara to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View. “Since the car is driving for me, though, I have this relaxed, stress-free feeling about being in stop-and-go traffic,” he says. “Time just seems to go by faster.”

Cars that drive themselves, once the stuff of science fiction, may be in garages relatively soon. A report by the consulting firm KPMG and the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit group in Michigan, predicts that autonomous cars will make their debut by 2019.

Google’s self-driving cars, a fleet of about a dozen, are the most widely known. But many big automotive manufac-turers, including Ford, Audi, Honda, and Toyota, are also investing heavily in autonomous vehicles.

At Google, the vehicles are fitted with a complex system of scanners, radars, lasers, GPS devices, cameras, and software. Before a test run, a person must manually drive the desired route and create a detailed map of the road’s lanes, traffic signals, and other objects. The information is then downloaded into the vehicle’s integrated software. When the car is switched to auto drive, the equipment monitors the roadway and sends the data back to the computer. The software makes the necessary speed and steering adjustments. Drivers can always take over if necessary; but in the nearly two years since the program was launched, the cars have logged more than 300,000 miles without an incident.

While it remains uncertain how quickly the public will embrace self-driving vehicles – what happens when one does malfunction? – the authors of the KPMG report make a strong case for them. They cite reduced commute times, increased productivity, and, most important, fewer accidents.

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, earlier this year, Bill Ford, chairman of Ford Motor Company, argued that vehicles equipped with artificial intelligence are critically important. “If we do nothing, we face the prospect of ‘global gridlock,’ a never-ending traffic jam that wastes time, energy, and resources, and even compromises the flow of commerce and health care,” he said.

Indeed, a recent study by Patcharinee Tientrakool of Columbia University in New York estimates that self-driving vehicles – ones that not only manage their own speed but commuicate intelligently with each other – could increase our highway capacity by 273 percent.

The challenges that remain are substantial. An autonomous vehicle must be able to think and react as a human driver would. For example, when a person is behind the wheel and a ball rolls into the road, humans deduce that a child is likely nearby and that they must slow down. Right now AI does not provide that type of inferential thinking, according to the report.

But the technology is getting closer. New models already on the market are equipped with technology designed to assist with driving duties not found just a few years ago – including self-parallel parking, lane-drift warning signals, and cruise control adjustments.

Lawmakers are grappling with the new technology, too. Earlier this year the state of Nevada issued the first license for autonomous vehicles in the United States, while the California Legislature recently approved allowing the eventual testing of the vehicles on public roads. Florida is considering similar legislation.

“It’s hard to say precisely when most people will be able to use self-driving cars,” says Janin, who gets a “thumbs up” from a lot of people who recognize the car. “But it’s exciting to know that this is clearly the direction that the technology and the industry are headed.”

* * *

At first glance, the student apartment at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman appears just like any other college housing: sparse furnishings, a laptop askew on the couch, a television and DVD player in the corner, a “student survival guide” sitting out stuffed with coupons for everything from haircuts to pizza.

But a closer examination reveals some unusual additions. The light switch on the wall adjoining the kitchen glows blue and white. Special sensors are affixed to the refrigerator, the cupboard doors, and the microwave. A water-flow gauge sits under the sink.

All are part of the CASAS Smart Home project at WSU, which is tapping AI technology to make the house operate more efficiently and improve the lives of its occupants, in this case several graduate students. The project began in 2006 under the direction of Diane Cook, a professor in The School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

A smart home set up by the WSU team might have 40 to 50 motion or heat sensors. No cameras or microphones are used, unlike some other projects across the country.

The motion sensors allow researchers to know where someone is in the home. They gather intelligence about the dwellers’ habits. Once the system becomes familiar with an individual’s movements, it can determine whether certain activities have happened or not, like the taking of medication or exercising. Knowing the time of day and what the person typically does “is usually enough to distinguish what [the person is] doing right now,” says Dr. Cook.

A main focus of the WSU research is senior living. With the aging of baby boomers becoming an impending crisis for the health-care industry, Cook is searching for a way to allow older adults – especially those with dementia or mild impairments – to live independently for longer periods while decreasing the burden on caregivers. A large assisted-care facility in Seattle is now conducting smart-home technology research in 20 apartments for older individuals. A smart home could also monitor movements for clues about people’s general health.

“If we’re able to develop technology that is very unobtrusive and can monitor people continuously, we may be able to pick up on changes the person may not even recognize,” says Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, a professor in the WSU psychology department who is helping with the research.

Sensors seemed poised to become omnipresent. In a glimpse of the future, an entire smart city is being built outside Seoul, South Korea. Scheduled to be completed in 2017, Songdo will bristle with sensors that regulate everything from water and energy use to waste disposal – and even guide vehicle traffic in the planned city of 65,000.

While for many people such extensive monitoring might engender an uncomfortable feeling of Big Brother, AI-imbued robots or other devices also may prove to be valuable and (seemingly) compassionate companions, especially for seniors. People already form emotional attachments to AI-infused devices.

“We love our computers; we love our phones. We are getting that feeling we get from another person,” said Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak at a forum last month in Palo Alto, Calif.

The new movie “Robot & Frank,” which takes place in the near future, depicts a senior citizen who is given a robot and rejects it at first. But “bit by bit the two affect each other in unforeseen ways,” notes a review at “Not since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid has male bonding had such a meaningful but comic connection…. [P]erfect partnership is the movie’s heart.”

* * *

Not everything about AI may yield happy consequences. Besides spurring concerns about invasion of privacy, AI looks poised to eliminate large numbers of jobs for humans, especially those that require a limited set of skills. One joke notes that “a modern textile mill employs only a man and a dog – the man to feed the dog, and the dog to keep the man away from the machines,” as an article earlier this year in The Atlantic magazine put it.

“This so-called jobless recovery that we’re in the middle of is the consequence of increased machine intelligence, not so much taking away jobs that exist today but creating companies that never have jobs to begin with,” futurist Saffo says. Facebook grew to be a multibillion-dollar company, but with only a handful of employees in comparison with earlier companies of similar market value, he points out.

Another futurist, Thomas Frey, predicts that more than 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030 – though he adds that new technologies will also create many new jobs for those who are qualified to do them.

Analysts have already noted a “hollowing out” of the workforce. Demand remains strong for highly skilled and highly educated workers and for those in lower-level service jobs like cooks, beauticians, home care aides, or security guards. But robots continue to replace workers on the factory floor. Amazon recently bought Kiva Systems, which uses robots to move goods around warehouses, greatly reducing the need for human employees.

AI is creeping into the world of knowledge workers, too. “The AI revolution is doing to white-collar jobs what robotics did to blue-collar jobs,” say Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, authors of the “Race Against the Machine.”

Lawyers can use smart programs instead of assistants to research case law. Forbes magazine uses an AI program called Narrative Science, rather than reporters, to write stories about corporate profits. Tax preparation software and online travel sites take work previously done by humans. Businesses from banks to airlines to cable TV companies have put the bulk of their customer service work in the hands of automated kiosks or voice-recognition systems.

“While we’re waiting for machines [to be] intelligent enough to carry on a long and convincing conversation with us, the machines are [already] intelligent enough to eliminate or preclude human jobs,” Saffo says.

* * *

The best argument that AI has a bright future may be made by fully acknowledging just how far it’s already come. Take the Mars Curiosity rover.

“It is remarkable. It’s absolutely incredible,” enthuses AI expert Lindsay. “It certainly represents intelligence.” No other biological organism on earth except man could have done what it has done, he says. But at the same time, “it doesn’t understand what it is doing in the sense that human astronauts [would] if they were up there doing the same thing,” he says.

Will machines ever exhibit that kind of humanlike intelligence, including self-awareness (which, ominously, brought about a “mental” breakdown in the AI system HAL in the classic sci-fi movie “2001: A Space Odyssey“)?

“I think we’ve passed the Turing test, but we don’t know it,” argued Pat Hayes, a senior research scientist at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, in the British newspaper The Telegraph recently. Think about it, he says. Anyone talking to Siri in 1950 when Turing proposed his test would be amazed. “There’s no way they could imagine it was a machine – because no machine could do anything like that in 1950.”

But others see artificial intelligence remaining rudimentary for a long time. “Common sense is not so common. It requires an incredible breadth of world understanding,” says iRobot’s Angle. “We’re going to see more and more robots in our world that are interactive with us. But we are a long way from human-level intelligence. Not five years. Not 10 years. Far away.”

Even MIT’s Winston, a self-described techno-optimist, is cautious. “It’s easy to predict the future – it’s just hard to tell when it’s going to happen,” he says. Today’s AI rests heavily on “big data” techniques that crunch huge amounts of data quickly and cheaply – sifting through mountains of information in sophisticated ways to detect meaningful relationships. But it doesn’t mimic human reasoning. The long-term goal, Winston says, is to somehow merge this “big data” approach with the “baby steps” he and other researchers now are taking to create AI that can do real reasoning.

Winston speculates that the field of AI today may be at a place similar to where biology was in 1950, three years before the discovery of the structure of DNA. “Everybody was pessimistic, [saying] we’ll never figure it out,” he says. Then the double helix was revealed. “Fifty years of unbelievable progress in biology” has followed, Winston says, adding: AI just needs “one or two big breakthroughs….”

• Carolyn Abate in San Francisco and Kelcie Moseley in Pullman, Wash., contributed to this report

The Christian Science Monitor (