Toyota Pledges $1bn To A.I. Research

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Japanese carmaker will establish new R&D company focused on robotics and future tech

Toyota has announced a major investment in artificial intelligence and robotics technology as it looks to modernise its workforce.

The Japanese firm has revealed it will be setting up a new company, Toyota Research Institute Inc. (TRI), as an R&D enterprise with an initial focus on artificial intelligence and robotics.

The new company will benefit from $1 billion in investment from Toyota over the next five years, which will go towards hiring a staff of 200 to research a wide range of areas.

Potential

toyota ai research facilityToyota says it believes that artificial intelligence has “significant potential” to support future industrial technologies and the creation of an entirely new industry, with TRI using artificial intelligence and big data to accelerate R&D in a range of fields to help resolve society’s future challenges.

The initial aims of TRI will be focused on improving driving safety, according to by Dr Gill Pratt, Toyota’s executive technical advisor and the CEO of the new company (pictured above with Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda).

“Our initial goals are to improve safety by continuously decreasing the likelihood that a car will be involved in an accident; to make driving accessible to everyone, regardless of ability; and to apply Toyota technology used for outdoor mobility to indoor environments,” he said.

TRI will be headquartered in Silicon Valley near Palo Alto and Stanford University with a second facility near to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in New England.

“As technology continues to progress, so does our ability to improve products,” said Toyota president Akio Toyoda. “At Toyota, we do not pursue innovation simply because we can; we pursue it because we should. It is our responsibility to make life better for our customers, and society as a whole.”

Boosting

The news is the latest major investment into AI research as the technology moves away from the realms of science fiction and into the real world.

Earlier this year, IBM and the UK government announced a deal concerning big data and cognitive computing research, where Big Blue pledged £200 million, with the government contributed £113 million.

IBM has long been a major player in the AI scene thanks to its Watson project, and last year launched a dedicated IBM Watson unit that is dedicated to developing and commercialising the cloud-delivered cognitive computing technology.

Despite all of this interest, several major players in the technology space have urged caution when experimenting with AI, including Professor Stephen Hawking, who warned that artificial intelligence could spell the end of life as we know it on Planet Earth, and that humans have 100 years left before AI-powered robots seize control.

Last year, Elon Musk, the South Africa-born inventor and entrepreneur best known as the co-founder of PayPal and chief executive of both SpaceX and Tesla Motors, warned against the dangers of AI, describing it as an “existential threat”.

In the summer Professor Hawking joined Elon Musk, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, in signing an open letter drafted by the Future of Life Institute. In the letter, they argued that AI development should not go on uncontrolled and they called for a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control in order to save humanity from a military AI arms race.

Steve Wozniak has also predicted that in the future, the world would be controlled by artificial intelligence and that robots will treat humans as their pets.

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