Toyota bets big on artificial intelligence

Elon Musk has described Artificial Intelligence as "our greatest existential threat" especially if it is free to develop and evolve without oversight.

AFP Relaxnews| Updated: Nov 08, 2015, 15:53 PM IST
Toyota bets big on artificial intelligence

Toyota, Aichi, Japan: The world's largest carmaker believes that AI will not only be a crucial component of future mobility but will also revolutionize everything from product development to manufacturing and safety.

So much so that on Friday it announced it is investing over $1 billion over the next five years in a new R&D company -- Toyota Research Institute -- which will officially open in Silicon Valley in January under the leadership of Dr. Gill Pratt, a luminary in the field.

Elon Musk, the charismatic head of electric car company Tesla has described Artificial Intelligence as "our greatest existential threat" especially if it is free to develop and evolve without oversight. However, Akio Toyoda, head of Toyota, believes that when combined with big data, it has the possibility to be truly revolutionary.

"At Toyota, we don't pursue innovation simply because we can," said Toyoda at a press conference in Tokyo, "We pursue it because we should. It is our responsibility to make life better for our customers, and society as a whole."

As for potential concerns about a Terminator-like future nightmare scenario, Toyoda and Dr. Gill Pratt were equally firm on stressing the importance of control and collaboration rather than simply trying to stay ahead of potential competitors.

"Gill told me that AI can reduce traffic accidents, but it cannot completely eliminate them without human input, and it is essential that people and machines collaborate to create a truly safe and secure mobile society," Toyoda continued. "This collaboration is important also outside the mobility field.

AI has significant potential to further improve all of society."

Therefore, when the new company begins operations, it will have strong ties with both Stanford University and MIT and according to Dr. Pratt will be focused on bridging "the gap between fundamental research and product development of life-saving and life-improving technologies."

The projects it undertakes will target one of three long-term goals -- safety; accessibility; and robotics.

Many leading minds -- those at Google in particular -- believe that AI will be key to truly autonomous vehicles that can avoid collisions regardless of a driver's actions.

However, Toyota wants to explore how the technology can help people in remote areas or with illnesses and disabilities improve their mobility. As for robotics: "Our goal is to improve the quality of life for all people, and in particular to allow seniors the dignity of aging in place, in their own familiar homes, regardless of age or infirmity," said Dr. Pratt.