Artist Takashi Murakami and AI

Japanese artist Takashi Murakami has always taken risks with his art. He blends traditional and contemporary styles to create wildly colorful pop art. He is often compared to Andy Warhol, the famous American pop artist.

Murakami has always embraced new technologies, like NFTs and cryptocurrency. So he isn't afraid of AI-generated art. But he does see the harmful effect it might have on artists. In his words:

AI will certainly do damage to technical trades, but I don’t think it will be able to block our ideas. The wackiest ideas, those that even AI cannot generate, will become even more valuable.

AI's impact on the movie industry

The film industry is grappling with concerns about the future in light of the rapid advancements of AI technology. When questioned about these potential effects, ChatGPT emphasizes how AI can assist humans, making tasks like scriptwriting, special effects, and audience analysis faster and more effective. It highlights that AI is a tool without any sinister plans to take over the world.

Conversely, the perspectives of human interviewees paint a somewhat gloomier picture of the future. Their biggest fear is that their creative work will soon be replaced and go unrecognized. The ability to synthesize voices and digitally alter faces through visual effects is already a reality. In fact, this technology was utilized to de-age Harrison Ford in the latest Indiana Jones movie, and AI has replicated James Earl Jones' iconic Darth Vader voice for the upcoming Star Wars series.

The power of ChatGPT

A few months ago, major tech company OpenAI launched ChatGPT and it quickly became a viral chatbot tool. Since then, it has impressed everyone by creating original essays, short stories, instruction sets and even coding. Users can run it for free as long as they create a personal account. They can simply type their request, and ChatGPT will execute it for them.

Simultaneous translator coming soon

Until now pocket translators have all followed the same steps: 1) you say something in your language; 2) the device turns your speech into text; 3) it translates the text to the other language; and finally, 4) the text-to-speech voice says it in the new language. A long process that makes for a frustrating conversation.

Enter two new devices—the “WT2 Plus Ear to Ear AI Translator Earbuds” from Timekettle, and the over-the-ear “Ambassador” from Waverly Labs. Both allow the speaker to continue speaking while the translation is taking place. You don’t have to wait after every sentence for the machine to catch up with you. This makes for a much faster conversation with a more natural flow. They aren’t simultaneous, but they’re pretty close. The WT2 Plus is already available, and the Ambassador is coming out soon. 

Is art created by A.I. really art?

You've probably heard that automation is becoming commonplace in more and more fields of human endeavor. You may also have heard that the last bastions of human exclusivity will probably be creativity and artistic judgment. Robots will be washing our windows long before they start creating masterpieces. Right?

I visited Rutgers University's Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where Ahmed Elgammal's team has created artificial-intelligence software that generates beautiful, original paintings.

I found these examples of robotically generated art to be polished and appealing. But something kept nagging at me: What happens in a world where effort and scarcity are no longer part of the definition of art?

The future of A.I. voice technology

There are few technologies being more rapidly adopted and expanded in 2018 than voice A.I. In just a few years, the use of voice systems has evolved from simple voice commands to entire ecosystems of applications and interactions.

We’ve only begun to predict the ways voice A.I. will influence interactions between humans and technology in the decades to come. For instance, consumer behavior may shift to verbally purchasing items through smart speakers as they realize they’re running low, rather than creating a shopping list and then purchasing them all at once later. One possibility in the health care space is self-directed physical and occupational therapy done through A.I. voice assistants.

In a survey by Edison Research and NPR, 39% of respondents indicated they're very interested in having smart speaker technology in their televisions and 24% want it in their cars—two environments that are not conducive to using smartphones.

Illusion of freedom in digital age

With the rise of A.I. and an endless sea of personal data available, some start to question, "How free are we?" Yes, it is true that A.I. will free us from many of the meaningless tasks that we are saddled with on a daily basis. However, there are serious concerns as to how our data is used for both positive and negative reasons.

We continue to see China using nearly every tool imaginable to monitor and control the lives of their citizens. Sesame Credit started just a few years ago but is now becoming mainstream in China. For those of you who are not familiar with the system, it is one where citizens are graded by their actions, things they buy, and other factors such as support of their government's policies. If you have a low credit score, you can be prevented from buying a house, sending your kids to private school, and other actions that restrict your freedom.

Impact of AI on Businesses

Artificial Intelligence, also known as AI, is best described as machine learning. Instead of programming a computer to perform a task, the computer will program itself.

As AI continues to grow it will enhance our lives. We can already see this in action with Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. Companies like Amazon are using AI in order to predict your next purchase. Another great example of AI in current use is with chat bots that you find in websites like Facebook, and in customer support apps.

Many people are looking forward to self driving cars that are completely driven by AI. Tesla has already incorporated AI into its autopilot that can be turned on at a moment’s notice. Google and other companies are in a rush to keep up.

Emotional surveillance of workers

Employees' brain waves are reportedly being monitored in factories, state-owned enterprises, and the military across China.

The technology works by placing wireless sensors in employees' caps or hats which, combined with artificial intelligence algorithms, spot incidents of workplace rage, anxiety, or sadness.

The "emotional surveillance technology" helps employers identify mood shifts so they can change break times, an employee's task, or even send them home.

"When the system issues a warning, the manager asks the worker to take a day off or move to a less critical post. Some jobs require high concentration. There is no room for a mistake."

Another type of sensor, built by technology company Deayea, is reportedly used in the caps of train drivers on the high-speed rail line between Beijing and Shanghai. The sensor can even trigger an alarm if a driver falls asleep.

China's facial-recognition tech

Sixteen areas in China are using facial-recognition technology that can reportedly scan the country's population in one second, and the world's population in two seconds.

Over the last two years the system has been used to arrest 2,000 people.

The system is part of Skynet, a nationwide monitoring program launched in 2005 to increase the use and capabilities of surveillance cameras.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

We are now experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a period of rapid change driven by progress in science and technology. The main drivers of 4IR are AI, big data and the Internet of Things (IoT). Japan will play a leading role in global innovation with a new World Economic Forum (WEF) center devoted to maximizing the potential of the 4IR, says Klaus Schwab, WEF founder and executive chairman.

“Japan is not sufficiently recognized for its innovative capabilities,” Schwab said in a recent interview with Forbes Japan. “The world is speaking about what’s happening in Silicon Valley and Shenzhen, but it is not aware that Japan has created a very successful startup community.”

Mitsubishi Financial to launch AI

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group plans to establish an organization to look into the use of artificial intelligence in loan application screenings and market trend predictions.

The new entity will be called MUFG AI Studio. MUFG aims to develop new financial services and improve operational effectiveness by proactively adopting AI in the financial sector. They will use AI to screen loan applications through analyzing the risk of bankruptcy and other factors because AI is capable of understanding corporate earnings and financial flows. The AI is also expected to read worldwide news reports and forecast changes in stock and bond prices.

Under the initiative, MUFG is also considering using AI in other areas, including to collect expertise from people who have performed well in trading bonds and to find new loan borrowers. MUFG would then use that expertise to train its employees.

What's the magic word?

Amazon's smart assistant Alexa can now be made to encourage children to say: "Please," and: "Thank you," when they ask it something. The new function addresses some parents' concerns that use of the technology was teaching their offspring to sound officious or even rude.

The move has been welcomed by one of Alexa's critics. In January, the research company ChildWise published a report warning that youngsters that grew up accustomed to giving orders to Alexa might become aggressive when they have to interact with humans.

“This is a very positive development," research director Simon Leggett said. "We had noticed that practically none of the children that we had talked to said they ever used the words 'please' or 'thank you' when talking to their devices.”

3D print your new home

Constructing a home by hand can be both expensive and time-consuming, especially when the home features a custom design. Some homebuilders have chosen to automate part of the construction process instead.

A new architectural startup called Branch Technology uses 3D-printing robots that can construct parts for homes.

The company will build a prototype of its first home, designed by architecture firm WATG, this year in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Branch's machines will print the walls, roof, and floor of the 1,000-square-foot model over the span of a few months, and then a construction crew will assemble the components on-site.

Senate passes self-driving car bill

In America, on a unanimous voice vote, a Senate committee approved legislation that authorizes self-driving car makers to sell as many as 80,000 vehicles a year within three years that would be exempt from current safety standards as manufacturers develop technology for autonomous vehicles.

The legislation only allows for the exemption—which gives car makers the chance to test and design new technology while potentially foregoing traditional standards for items such as the placement of controls and displays, rear-view mirrors or protection from the impact of steering wheels in a crash—in cases where manufacturers can show the exempted car or component is as safe as that already on the road.

 “This is cutting-edge technology that is advancing extremely fast,” said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters. “It’s going to happen a lot sooner than people realize. This is not decades—it’s a matter of a few years.”

Amazon and Microsoft to team up

Amazon and Microsoft are teaming up to get their virtual assistants to talk to each other.

Someone with an Amazon Echo smart speaker might use Cortana to book a meeting or to check a calendar, Amazon suggested in a press release announcing the news on Wednesday. Or Cortana users could control their smart home via Alexa.

When the feature becomes available later in 2017, users will access one virtual assistant via the other (at least at first) by saying "Alexa, open Cortana," or "Cortana, open Alexa," then give their command.

In a statement, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said: "Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us. Bringing Cortana's knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments, and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal."

Volvo's battery-infused car

In 2013, Volvo announced a potentially revolutionary approach to designing electric vehicles (EVs). It wanted to replace some of the steel body panels in its cars with carbon fiber composite materials that can store power like a battery.

The rechargeable panels would be composed of multiple layers of carbon fiber, which are insulated from each other by fiberglass inserts. The result is a structural component that can be charged like the battery.

Though this new design would reduce weight problems associated with rechargeable car batteries, it was not without its problems. In the event that the car crashes, emergency crews would essentially be trying to fish someone out of a giant damaged battery. The cost of carbon fiber was also quite high. Due to these issues, Volvo decided not to mass produce its new cars.

Autonomous bus service in Tochigi

A test of self-driving bus services organized by the transport ministry kicked off in Tochigi Prefecture on Saturday.

The ministry hopes to launch the autonomous bus services in fiscal 2020 to provide a means of transportation for elderly people living in hilly and mountainous areas with dwindling populations.

The ministry hopes automated public transport services will help elderly people who have trouble visiting hospitals or shopping because they can no longer drive or their bus services have been canceled.

“The ride was comfortable,” one participant said, adding, “I also enjoyed the views from the large window.” 

View a picture of the bus here

Self-driving tractors in Japan

Major Japanese agricultural machinery makers are developing self-driving tractors. The government plans to support the introduction of these  tractors amid growing hopes that such machines will help farmers cope with labor shortages at a time when many are aging and face difficulties finding successors.

In June 2017, Kubota Corp. started selling the country’s first tractors with autonomous driving functions on a trial basis. Utilizing the Global Positioning System (GPS), the tractors can keep tabs on where they are operating.

As the machines still need to be monitored, Kubota assumes that farmers will operate two tractors at a time, one with a driver and the other unmanned. Having two tractors operate simultaneously in this way on farmland with an area of 3,000-5,000 sq. meters would reduce the work time by around 30 percent, according to Satoshi Iida, a senior managing executive officer of Kubota.

Softbank to invest big in A.I.

At SoftBank Group's annual shareholders meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday, founder and chief executive Masayoshi Son said: "Some say SoftBank is a mobile phone company, but that's wrong [...] We are an information revolution company. A cellphone is just a device. From now on, we will be in an age where all infrastructure will be connected by information networks."

Son has about 30 targets lined up in emerging sectors such as artificial intelligence, robotics and the internet of things. SoftBank, he made it clear, intends to be at the forefront of all these fields.