Candido and his team have been working on this problem for several years, since the company was first launched as part of the Google X research lab in 2012. Loon is now a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet.
The big advancement since then has been applying reinforcement learning, something previously used in video games, to a real-world challenge, according to Marc Bellemare, lead author on the Nature paper and a research scientist at Google Canada. “Machine learning refers to the idea of taking data and making predictions about outcomes,” Bellemare says. “With reinforcement learning we are focusing on the decision part. How do we go up or down based on that data? Not only is [the AI controller] making decisions, but making decisions over time.”
Some experts believe the AI-powered balloons can also be used to monitor Earth’s environmental vital signs, such as checking on melting in the Arctic