ARTIFICIAL intelligence (AI) can sometimes be put to rather whimsical uses. In 2012 Google announced that one of its computers, after watching thousands of hours of YouTube videos, had trained itself to identify cats. Earlier this year a secretive AI firm called DeepMind, bought by Google in 2014, reported in Nature that it had managed to train a computer to play a series of classic video games, often better than a human could, using nothing more than the games’ on-screen graphics.

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