Artificial Intelligence was one such thing: the search to try and bring computers to a state of human-like sentience drove a lot of interesting ideas and concepts forward, but over the last decade or two, AI seems to have lost almost all of its luster and momentum
I disagree! Maybe AI as a research topic is not as popular any more, but I think it pretty much became omnipresent and accessible for anybody with a little advanced computer skills. It just happened to happen partially in a very different way than anticipated. Lets start with the obvious:
Siri, Google and Wolfram|Alpha are pretty close to passing the turing test and a computer even won a game show for humans. So AI achieved a lot although we still don't have humanoid robots in our homes and we probably never will.
But consider this: Imagine a blob of green jelly which sits embedded in the top of an anthill. It produces a smelly goo which the ants love and when an ant nibbles of the goo the green jelly absorbs some of the body fluids of the ant.
One day a neighbouring ant population approaches the ant hill threatening the ants. The ants in distress consume a lot of the smelly goo in order to sooth their stress. Suddenly the green jelly starts to spray a weak acid at the foreign ants until those retreat.
Question: Based on this observation, would you consider the green jelly a living being? If so tell me what is the difference between the green jelly, the friendly ants and the foreign ants on one hand and the Internet, the social media community and the politicians in favor of SOPA and PIPA?
Many scientists searching for extra terrestrial life seem to be quite sure that when they see foreign life forms they'll recognize them as such. I think they missed one right under their nose. Just because it is so huge it spans a complete planet and because the role of bacteria inside the body of mammals is played by mammals inside the Internet.