May 19, 2017      

The global AI race is picking up, as cities and countries turn to artificial intelligence for security, education, and economic health. But which deployments are most practical — and profitable — and which will change societies?

Robotics Business Review has partnered with me to bring you this roundup of the top robotics developments. This week, we jump from Las Vegas to Norway and Thailand as they all participate in the global AI race.

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Las Vegas bets on AI to protect itself

In the city of glitz and glamour, how many people do you think Las Vegas has to protect its infrastructure from cyber attacks? One hundred? Ninety? Try three employees plus an intern. To protect itself, the municipality has deployed AI from cyber security firm Darktrace. What distinguishes Darktrace’s product is is the level of autonomy built into it. It not only detects threats, but it can also respond to them without human input.

Although there have been several “smart cities” initiatives, this AI deployment marks the beginning of cities, especially those with large, vibrant economies, looking for ways to protect against growing numbers of cyberattacks.

Industry 4.0 arrives in Thailand

While much of the robotics attention in Asia goes to Japan and China, manufacturers in Thailand have been investing in automation. Thai Beverage Group, the largest beverage company in the country, already uses 100 robots.

The global AI race includes Thailand.

Thailand has gotten serious about developing and using robotics and AI.

Earlier this month, ThaiBev opened a tea factory that it plans to use as a model to expand into Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. The company said it wants to use up to 1,000 robots in the future.

Separately, Charoen Pokphand Group, the largest private company in Thailand, has partnered with a local institution to provide a bachelor’s in robotics and automation.

These two firms reflect two key developments within Thailand’s robotics journey. First, Thailand isn’t waiting for robotics companies to come to it. Local firms know what they want and are spending resources and time to develop the right technologies.

Second, by focusing on education, Thailand is pivoting towards training its growing workforce and depending on its own population instead of on foreign workers, a choice that isn’t seen often in other robotics markets.

Thailand’s participation in the global AI and robotics race may have just begun, but it is making all the right moves.

Robots: The new face of Chinese education?

A robot called “KeeKo” is surfacing in classrooms throughout China. An estimated 200 kindergarten classes are using the robot, which is designed to work with children under the age of 7. KeeKo reportedly has the intelligence of a 5-year-old.

The company behind KeeKo, Xiamen ZhiTong, said it expects to sell tens of thousands more robots this year alone. It has “stressed” that these robots have not been created to replace human teachers.

Global AI and robotics are already changing the future of society. A new generation is growing up with robots, just as previous cohorts have taken PCs and smartphones for granted. These children will likely be more willing to adopt this technology than any before then.

Although KeeKo isn’t intended to simply replace humans, will automation be confined to being “support tools?”

Norway has chosen the global AI race over other forms of automation.

Norway is investing in AI in the hopes of being an international leader.

Norway’s new AI push

A group of entrepreneurs in Norway have partnered to launch Norwegian.AI, a new fund for artificial intelligence. The fund will invest in companies that are looking to solve “global challenges” through AI.

Already, NOK100 million has been invested ($11.8 million U.S.). The objective of the fund is to establish Norway as a global leader in AI.

Norway isn’t in the news for robotics the way Germany or Japan is. But this latest AI fund shows that every country, regardless of how proficient it is in robotics, is looking to capitalize on it to advance its global standing.

Note that in the case of Norway, the country chose to invest in AI over industrial automation or drones. The competition in development of machine learning, big data analytics, and the Internet of Things will likely increase, just as it has for hardware robotics. This provides opportunities for researchers, startups, and international investors.

More on Global AI and Robotics Competition:

North America’s robot diet

A new study found that Canada, the U.S., and Mexico are increasing their acquisitions of industrial robots. During the first quarter of 2017, a total of 9,733 robots were bought by manufacturing companies ($516 million), a 32% increase from the first quarter of 2016. This is the biggest first-quarter order on record.

According to the Robotic Industries Association, one reason for this uptick is because robot costs are dropping.

When calculating how a country is doing when it comes to automation, there are only two areas to look at: government strategy and private sector. Across North America, the private sector is driving adoption.

Currently, manufacturers is doing so in a relatively unrestricted environment. As upfront costs drop, acquisitions may increase even more. But remember that government regulations and trade barriers, as well as macroeconomic conditions, can harm both robotics suppliers and end users.

In addition to fears of massive job displacement are concerns about concentration of wealth from stagnating productivity. Could such fears just North American governments into action against automation?