Foreign Hackers stock image Deposit Photos

Credit: Deposit Photos

June 22, 2018      

Nations around the world continue to build bridges with other countries around artificial intelligence, automation, and robotics. Conversely, some foreign hackers are actively attacking robotics companies and AI firms looking for inside information.

Robotics Business Review has partnered with Abishur Prakash at Center for Innovating the Future to provide its readers with cutting-edge insights into recent developments in international robotics, AI, and unmanned systems. Are you ready to be updated?

Singapore-based healthcare AI heads to China

Robotics development: Hanalytics, a Singaporean AI firm, has developed an AI doctor called Biomind. It can diagnose neurological problems in seconds, while a human doctor could take as long as 30 minutes. And it has an accuracy of 90% compared with a human doctor’s accuracy of 60%. Biomind was developed in partnership with Beijing’s Tiantan Hospital, where it has been diagnosing patients since April.

Geopolitical significance: This isn’t the first AI partnership between Singapore and China. At the first Sino-Singapore Artificial Intelligence Forum this month in Nanjing, China, Singapore’s minister of finance invited China to test its AI in Singapore.

Back in February, Alibaba announced that its first joint research center outside of China will be in Singapore, focusing on AI. This wasn’t the first such center, either. In December 2017, the National University of Singapore (NUS) said it would open up a joint research center for AI in Suzhou, China.

Even SenseTime, the world’s most valuable startup, received part of its funding from Temasek, the state fund of Singapore.

At a time when the U.S., European, and some Asian companies are struggling to break into China’s AI market, China appears to be opening its arms to Singapore. Equally important is what Biomind represents for competition. AI firms have to deal with competition in a way most companies don’t have to. Because AI is digital and because demand for AI is set to skyrocket (the global AI market will be worth $190 billion by 2025), new AI firms are springing up at an unprecedented pace (the number of AI startups has increased 14-fold since 2000).

Biomind is an example of this. It is an AI service supplied by a foreign AI startup. As hospitals in China use Biomind, Chinese AI firms may lose out. Did local firms in China expect to compete with Singaporean AI? Do they have a plan for this? This model can be applied to any country, any industry, and any service. As AI allows countries to connect in new ways, it is also leading to new business challenges for AI firms.

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Australia launches automation roadmap

Robotics development: Australia has launched an automation roadmap to develop automation technologies. It will bring together various stakeholders to modernize the Australian economy and “unlock human potential.” The roadmap was developed by the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, which was established in 2014 and received AUS$25.6 million ($19 million U.S.) over seven years to develop new technologies. The group developed the Cartman robot, which won Amazon’s Robotics Challenge in 2017.

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Geopolitical significance: Australia is one of the few nations developing an official automation strategy. Other nations include Japan (New Robot Strategy), Germany (Industry 4.0), and China (Made in China 2025).

Prior to the automation roadmap, a trio of Australian government agencies, universities, and industry groups partnered to create the Sixth Wave Alliance (SWA). The SWA will deal with the challenges robotics and automation could bring.

For Australia, an automation strategy is a way to capitalize on robotics/AI and build a new economy. According to one study, automation could add $2.2 trillion to Australia’s economy by 2030.

But Australia’s success with automation won’t depend on roadmaps or predictions. It will depend on execution. Arguably, the most important question is this: how does Australia compete in Asia, with established automation leaders like China, South Korea, and Japan?

Australia has a robot density of 83 robots per 10,000 workers in comparison with 303 in Japan and 631 in South Korea. In other words, Australia’s automation footprint is much smaller than its Asian counterparts

On top of that, the SWA has already warned that Australia must stop its robotics talent from leaving the country. Within the next five to 10 years, Australian banks could shed 40,000 jobs thanks to automation.

All of this means Australia must be very careful as to how it takes automation across the country if it wishes to become a global competitor. One way Australia could compete is by acting as a “gateway” for Western robotics firms looking to enter Asia.

Another way Australia could compete is by finding its niche and attracting talent, such as in construction. FastBrick Robotics is already a leader in automation for the construction industry. This past April, FastBrick unveiled plans to build 600,000 homes by 2023 through robots (2% of the global market).

In June, FastBrick signed a deal with Mexico to test its robot, which can build a house in less than two days. With such ambition and growth, Australia’s automation roadmap could create a new robotics/AI landscape for the country.

Foreign hackers — and funding — pose risks to U.S. AI firms

Robotics development: According to a new lawsuit, Clarifai, an AI startup that was working for the U.S. Pentagon, was attacked by Russian hackers in November 2017.

However, the executives at Calirfai did not inform the Pentagon immediately. Instead, they chose to keep it under wraps. Clarifai’s work with the Pentagon had to do with “Project Maven,” a relatively new project that seeks to apply AI to drone footage in order to produce actionable intelligence.

Geopolitical significance: The hacking of Clarifai represents a new reality for robotics and AI companies. Geopolitics matters as much as profit and public policy. Robotics and AI companies must think about ways they could be targeted by foreign hackers for what they are working on.

Drone companies have been dealing with this for a while. Since 2011, “weaponized emails” have been sent to people working at U.S. drone firms. These emails have allowed foreign hackers to steal data, giving China secrets about how to build advanced drones.

Separately, in February 2018, authorities revealed that Russian-origin hackers had targeted dozens of people in the U.S. working on militarized drones, cloud computing, and other cutting-edge technologies. While foreign hackers have traditionally targeted large companies, their focus could turn to startups in the future.

But targeting might not come through just cyberattacks from foreign hackers. It might also come through funding.

For example, in 2016, Boston-based AI firm Neurala couldn’t receive funding from the U.S. So it turned to China and raised $1.2 million. To acquire ideas, could funding be another tool, alongside cyberattacks?

In March 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) warned that Chinese firms, working at the direction of Beijing, were investing in American AI and robotics startups. The DOD said this could give China an economic and military edge.

All of this means that AI and robotics firms must create some kind of plan to protect their work and IP from other countries. At the same time, governments may be of little help in protecting robotics and AI firms.

For example, in April, the U.S. proposed stopping its AI firms from partnering with China in any substantial capacity. Does anyone think a ban will slow or stop China (or anyone else) from trying to acquire U.S. AI innovations?

Main image courtesy of Deposit Photos.