Robotics & Geopolitics: U.S., South Korea Seek AI Leadership With New Efforts

Credit: Geralt via Pixabay

May 18, 2018      

This week, the world saw the U.S. create a committee on artificial intelligence, South Korea investing more in AI leadership, and telecommunications giant Vodafone spending on more automation.

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

South Korea invests trillions of won into AI

Robotics development: On May 16, the South Korean government unveiled a 2.2 trillion won ($2 billion) investment plan for the South Korean AI industry. The plan, approved by the Presidential Committee on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, will be invested over five years into “large scale” AI initiatives around defense, science, and public safety.

The plan also calls for investment into educational institutes to create 5,000 AI experts over the next five years.

Geopolitical significance: While South Korea may feel positive about its investment plan, is $2.2 billion really enough to make a difference in global AI leadership — especially considering what China is investing?

After all, last month, China’s Sensetime raised $600 million to become the world’s most valuable AI startup. Also in April, the former head of Google China established a $500 million fund to invest in AI firms.

South Korea is investing heavily in trying to obtain robotics and AI leadership.

This month, Unisound, a separate AI firm from China, raised $100 million. To top it all off, Tianjin, a northern port city in China, has unveiled a $16 billion fund for AI.

In other words, a single city in China has unveiled a fund that is eight times larger than all of what South Korea’s government is planning to invest over the next five years. Any government investments around AI must take into account what other countries are doing.

If South Korea can’t match China in funding, then it will need to use its funding strategically. One way it could do this is by investing in foreign AI/robotics firms, not just South Korean companies.

China’s AI funding is mainly China-centric. Even China’s strategy to lure talent revolves around luring Chinese talent (and paying each national up to $151,140 as a one-time payment to come back).

Instead of being self-centered, perhaps South Korea can make its investment plan global. However, even this isn’t foolproof. If other countries see potential in what South Korea is doing toward robotics and AI leadership, they might replicate it and may be able to pull far more resources than Seoul.

White House establishes council for AI leadership

Robotics development: On May 10, the White House unveiled the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence. The committee will report to the National Science and Technology Council. Its membership includes organizations such as Google, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Microsoft, and Amazon. The goal of the committee is to bring various stakeholders in the American AI industry together to improve collaboration and cooperation.

Geopolitical significance: The AI committee points to one thing: The U.S. is getting serious about keeping its AI leadership. However, unlike in the past, when the U.S. was the only AI power, now many other countries are taking steps to lead in AI.

The U.K. is examining AI ethics as a way to grow its AI power, a government-appointed task force in India has created a vision for AI in India, and Germany is setting up a “Cyber Valley” to become an AI hub.

In addition, the European Commission is calling for a €20 billion investment into AI (while 25 EU members have signed a “Declaration for Cooperation on Artificial Intelligence”).

On top of that, China wants to become the world’s leading AI power by 2030 with an industry valued at $150 billion. And don’t forget that Japan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Israel are all big players in the AI world.

The big challenge in front of this new AI committee is how it can ensure that American AI and robotics firms can compete in the global market at a time when every country wants its own firms to succeed.

Perhaps it won’t be up to the government to solve this question, but companies themselves. For example, Jigsaw, Google’s geopolitical think tank, has announced that it will allow any political organization in the world to use Project Shield, a DDoS protection service that uses machine learning. It may be innovative thinking like this that decides how well the U.S. maintains AI leadership.

Vodafone looks to automation to compete

Robotics development: On May 15, British telecommunications giant Vodafone announced a new plan to compete in the global market. It revolves around using automation technologies in “IT and network operations.” At the same time, Vodafone has established an automation unit that has created and deployed around 200 bots.

However, as Vodafone looks to automation, it also appears to be cutting jobs. In the past fiscal year, 3,300 jobs were reportedly eliminated by automation, and more are expected to go in the future.

Geopolitical significance: Almost every major business is turning to automation to succeed. Alongside Vodafone is Kroger, an American retailer that signed a deal with British grocer Ocado to use its automation technology in the U.S.

Logistics giant UPS is planning to unveil a plan centered around automation to improve its returns, while Amazon will be expanding its fully automated Amazon Go stores to San Francisco and Chicago.

The growing trend of companies turning to automation will only grow in the coming years. After all, AI could boost the profitability of businesses by 38% by 2035. This leads to an important question: Which automation technologies will yield the most results?

Perhaps it is innovations like what Skillate in Bangalore, India, recently unveiled: a new system that reduces hiring time by 50%, thanks to AI. Or it might be what Preferred Networks, Japan’s most valuable startup, is working on for Toyota: algorithms that allow Toyota to compete with Google’s self-driving cars.

Either way, companies thinking about turning to automation must think about which technology will give them the biggest “bang for their buck.” As more businesses adopt automation technologies, economies themselves could become dependent on automation. That could make some governments protective over how its firms automation technologies are being sold, acquired, or stolen.