For those of you who would prefer to listen:
90,000 people flocked to Barcelona this week for the Mobile World Congress. The annual event brings together industry leaders and innovators to present their latest creations and share their vision of the future. The 2023 theme is “Velocity: Unleashing Tomorrow’s Technology – Today.” Topics ranged from 5G and smartphones as well as other smart devices. Robotic dogs and tea makers, not to mention virtual air taxis, showed up too. The call for flying taxis in circulation by 2025 was repeated. It sounds like it might start in South Korea first.
There are believed to be over 3 Million industrial robots in circulation today, around the world. That’s according to data from the World Robotics report. 70% of them are in Asia. That number is expected to increase by nearly 7X by the end of the decade. The majority of that increase is expected to come in China. There are approximately 300K industrial robots in circulation in the United States. Industrial robots are designed to do heavy, automated tasks, primarily in the manufacturing industry. You’ve likely seen those large arms that work assembly lines, particularly in the auto industry. The numbers keep growing as the technology advances.
Since ChatGPT has accelerated the excitement and awareness around Artificial Intelligence, companies continue to capitalize on the theme. British startup XRAI Glass is joining the party with augmented reality glasses. The company’s virtual assistant app was designed to work with smart viewer glasses to help people who are deaf or hard of hearing better understand what’s happening around them. Speech is transcribed from other people nearby and the subtitles are displayed onto the lenses or an attached smartphone. XRAI has incorporated ChatGPT into its glasses. This will allow the device to summarize a conversation and/or respond to questions posed, like who do the Giants play this weekend or what’s the population of Tokyo? This could come in really handy for reminders, information and if you simply couldn’t hear something clearly. You get the idea.
Are you interested in a digital human? Well, an Israeli startup is working on one. It’s essentially an online avatar that can work with generative AI chat systems to carry on conversations. So, it’s an avatar, that looks just like a human. The Company is D-ID, based in Tel Aviv. Digital humans are designed to react intelligently to our interactions. They can respond to the tone of someone’s voice, body language, and facial expressions and respond with expressions of their own. The avatar shows up on a screen and has the capability of responding to questions or instructions and, in a nano-second, scrub the World Wide Web and respond with informed answers, allowing the conversation to gain momentum with anticipation of what comes next. The company says it has many safeguards in place to prevent malicious activity. That’s clearly a huge risk. It’s fascinating stuff. It’s also a little freaky.
Digital Humans are actively used today. They come in the form of virtual assistants in the healthcare industry. They serve the role of customer service representative online. Digital humans are extremely active in the entertainment industry, playing countless characters on multiple platforms.
Some say that at some point, we will all have our own “digital twin.” The fact is, you could create one right now by uploading photos and letting the AI system go to work to reproduce the image in 3D, give it a voice and bring it to life. The process is even faster if you provide video and audio files. It’s pretty wild, and again, it’s a little freaky.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and MIT Dean of the College of Computing Daniel Huttenlocher wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal this week highlighting the controversial opportunities and the risks of Artificial Intelligence. They wrote a book on the subject in 2021. It’s a fascinating read. It’s a challenging one too. This from the Op-Ed:
“Now AI, a product of human ingenuity, is obviating the primacy of human reason: It is investigating and coming to perceive aspects of the world faster than we do, differently from the way we do, and, in some cases, in ways we don’t understand.”
This is all uncharted territory, with very loose rules and guideposts. Innovation is moving at a pace much faster than government and leaders can. Not to mention, many in those positions don’t have a grasp of the subjects either.
All that said, the buzz is real and gaining momentum. Why is there so much hype about these prospects, beyond the wildly cool and frightening fact that it actually exists? Well, for one, Digital Humans are available 24/7. They don’t need sleep, take vacations or require a break. They don’t require a salary either, although there are considerable costs on the front end. Digital Humans are scalable and can speak multiple languages. Digital humans bring a more personalized connection to the virtual world. To stay ahead, innovation is required. The rest of the world is embracing these themes. China is atop that list.
Also announced this week: China’s military is planning to build its first low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites this year, in an attempt to catch up to Elon Musk’s Starlink. Space X has built a vast network of over 3,500 satellites in low-Earth orbit. It has tens of thousands of users in the United States. It’s the largest of its kind. LEO satellites are much cheaper and provide more efficient transmission compared to satellites in higher orbit. China clearly wants in. It does not want the United States to have an exclusive stronghold on any communications. Space is clearly the next frontier.
Foreign investment in China just hit an 18-year low. Tensions with the United States are certainly playing a role. The economic slowdown is part of it too. In response to Covid and the subsequent supply chain strains, manufacturers have sought alternate locations. Southeast Asia and Latin America have been landing spots. Manufacturing is also returning to American soil at a faster rate. It’s not just the West; Japanese-based Sony has moved manufacturing from China to Thailand in the past year. South Korea’s Samsung has redirected business to Vietnam.
A TikTok ban is gaining some serious momentum. In addition to Federal government agencies, Congress is pushing a bill that would ban the app altogether in America. There are over 100 Million Americans that are active users on TikTok that won’t be happy. That said, they probably don’t realize the security risks they present. If they do understand it, then they just flat-out don’t care.
Millions of Americans are addicted to social media. It’s like a digital drug. And TikTok is the ultimate. It might not be deadly. But it can certainly cause harm. You’re probably aware that TikTok is owned by a Chinese company. The concern is all the data is collected and monitored by the Chinese government. There’s also the ability to feed misinformation and manipulate users’ minds. Social media has a track record here. But can the Federal government ban an app? It’s a very controversial situation, running straight into the 1st Amendment. China’s version of TikTok is different than the rest of the world. And remember, China does not allow any American social media in its country. India has already banned TikTok. Others are clearly following.
This Digital Age we’re in is bringing so many fascinating innovations. It’s hard to imagine life before Amazon and the iPhone. It really wasn’t that long ago. Smart devices have made life easier in so many respects. But they also make them more complicated. The problem is, not everyone recognizes it. The trend is absolutely irreversible. In many ways, tomorrow’s technology is already here today. How we use it, how we manage it, how we prosper with it, and how we protect ourselves from it will go a long way toward the path beyond tomorrow. And it’s certainly very investable. It’s a great opportunity that brings even greater responsibility.
Have a nice weekend. We’ll be back, dark and early on Monday.