Greetings from CES, the annual consumer electronics extravaganza in Las Vegas that began as an opportunity for retailers to see what gadgets they’d be buying to sell to their customers in the coming year and has evolved into a see-and-be-seen event for the technology industry’s elite.
I led a conversation with Andrew Ng, the leader of Chinese Internet giant Baidu’s artificial intelligence research unit. Ng is a Stanford professor who helped start Google Brain and co-founded online education firm Coursera. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on AI who speaks clearly about the complicated topic in terms businesspeople can relate to.
Some highlights from our discussion:
* Ng believes every company needs a chief AI officer. AI will become so important and is so confusing to most businesspeople that only an expert can help business leaders make sense of it. Andrew Nusca wrote up in more detail Ng’s thoughts on the matter here.
* If a human can perform a mental task in less than a second, it’s likely a computer aided by AI can take over that task. Image recognition is an example of something computers already can do better than humans. Ng graciously said he thinks it will be a long, long time before a computer can conduct an entertaining onstage interview in front of an audience.
* The notion of evil machines is a silly one, he thinks. Machines are bad at context. Moreover, it’s inconceivable to Ng that computers can learn to think given how little we know about the human brain, which is much better at thinking than any computer.
* That said, AI will replace many jobs that humans currently do. Ng is optimistic that at the same time AI will unleash human creativity to figure out new forms of employment. In the meantime, he’s a fan of universal basic income—not so much so that people don’t have to work but so they can study to retrain themselves.
Ng has been quoted before saying that AI will become so central to our lives that it’s the new electricity. Hearing him talk, it’s easy to see why.
BITS AND BYTES
Samsung will pour $150 million into AI and VR startups. The South Korean conglomerate’s investment arm, NEXT, has already backed companies including Dashbot, which builds user analytics tools for so-called software bots that automate tasks; Entry Point VR, a startup that makes tools for companies to more easily distribute virtual reality media across multiple devices; and LiquidSky, which makes video game streaming technology. (Fortune)
Your self-driving car news of the day. Intel wants to be inside your driverless, horseless carriage with its new “GO” brand. One of its high-profile customers, BWW, will have prototypes on the road before the end of 2017. And Audi expects to send its autonomous vehicles out into traffic by 2020, with an assist from Nvidia. (Fortune, Fortune, Fortune)
GoPro drones are cleared for flight. The struggling digital camera company is resuming sales of Karma—its first big product line extension—after grounding the product shortly after its November launch because of power issues. (Wall Street Journal)
Apple confirms contribution to SoftBank fund. In a relatively unusual move, Apple is ponying up $1 billion for the $100 billion fund announced last October by the Japanese tech conglomerate and Saudi Arabia’s public investment organization. Other publicly-disclosed investors include Foxconn, Qualcomm, and (potentially) Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison. (Reuters, Wall Street Journal)
Tesla flips the on switch for its $5 billion battery plant. The Gigafactory outside Las Vegas is officially mass-producing lithium-ion cells, initially intended for its portfolio of home energy storage products. (Fortune)
A retail showroom, right in your own living room. Gap and BMW are among the first testers of a new Google service that uses augmented reality technologies to help consumers interact with products without actually making their way to a store. The solution uses 3D cameras and sensors to overlay digital images onto a real-world physical space. (Bloomberg)
You, too, could benefit from ‘superhero vision.’ IBM researchers believe we’re on the cusp of big advances in hyper-imaging technology that uses electromagnetic spectrum to see things that aren’t otherwise visible to the naked eye. Potential applications include sensors that more readily detect airborne contaminants or driver hazards such as fog or black ice. (Fortune)
Meet Julie McCoy, your cyber-enabled cruise director. Carnival Cruises is investing in technologies such as wireless medallions that can help onboard concierges and ship personnel armed with tablet computers anticipate passenger needs more quickly. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
This E-Commerce Power Just Netted $250 Million in Funding, by Barb Darrow
Check Out LG’s Impossibly Thin ‘Picture-On-Wall’ TV, by Don Reisinger
How Google and Facebook Have Taken Over the Digital Ad Industry, by Mathew Ingram
Why Isn’t TV Advertising Dead? It’s Complicated, by Andrew Nusca
Kids Will Soon Be Able to Write Code With Lego, by John Kell
This Revolutionary New Technology Uses Light to Activate Medicine, by Sy Mukherjee
ONE MORE THING
Get ready for gadgets galore! Electronic tattoos, underwater drones, a wearable baby monitor, talking refrigerators and washing machines. Here are some of our favorite “smart” devices and appliances debuting this week at CES in Las Vegas. (Fortune, Wired, Time)