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Ben Reid

Embodied AI – Incredible Local Robotics Research

This week, I’ve been blown away learning more about the amazing AI and Robotics research happening in New Zealand’s universities.

At the AI Forum Connect event in Christchurch Professor Simon Brown discussed his work developing low power neuromorphic chips – devices which mimic the behaviour of the networks of neurons in the brain, using nanoscale switches which emulate synapses.  While it’s early days, this technology has a huge potential impact to provide a low cost computer chip to build brain-like structures. This will also support new approaches for solving highly complex tasks, including pattern and image recognition.

At the Auckland AI Forum Connect event, Professor Bruce MacDonald and researcher Mahla Nejati of Auckland University’s Advanced Robotics Research Centre (CARES) detailed the applications they have been working on in healthcare and orchard robotics.  Bruce also has a neat term for modern intelligent robots, ‘Embodied AI’.

Excellent progress is being made in a partnership between University of Auckland, University of Waikato, Plant & Food Research, MBIE and Tauranga based RoboticsPlus to develop fruit picking (kiwifruit and apples) and pollinating robots.  The aim to solve the productivity and labour shortage constraints of the kiwifruit industry, in particular, is starting to show spectacular results. RoboticsPlus has recently raised a significant capital round to start taking these intelligent machines to market internationally.  Watch this video for insight to the future of horticulture.

Given so much of our economy is still centred on the primary sector: forestry, wine, aquaculture, dairy and meat, there is a win-win transformational opportunity here for New Zealand.  By applying these intelligent robots to our primary sector we can achieve the step change in capacity and productivity (plus worker health and safety) that enables growth and international competitive advantage. Maybe the even bigger opportunity is to take this technology IP to market internationally and help transform the primary sectors globally, aiding the quest to feed 10 Billion Mouths.

This requires strategic investment from the incumbents. The University of Auckland example has shown that research partnerships can deliver incredible potential for kiwifruit and apple growers, so which sector wants to be next?  Contact Jarmo Crivelli at Auckland Uniservices for more information on how to engage with Bruce and the CARES team and David Humm at University of Canterbury.  There are similar opportunities for AI and robotics research partnerships with all Universities throughout New Zealand and I’m looking forward to surfacing more of the amazing research work.

In other news, last week I had my first meaningful customer service interaction with a chatbot! I’d left my Kindle on a plane on Friday afternoon, so went to Air New Zealand’s website, clicked Ask Oscar, typed in ‘lost property’ and after a couple of questions was rapidly directed to the correct form to fill in.  Ninety minutes later (and outside standard working hours on Friday evening) I received a call saying that they’d found my device and it was ready to pick up at the airport. This was a great customer service experience, enabled by technology.  It’s just one, small but significant example of how advances in conversational AI are incrementally improving our day to day lives!

Next week, I’m looking forward to speaking about Artificial Intelligence – Is New Zealand Ready? at the InfrastructureNZ Building Nations Symposium in Auckland.  I am extremely encouraged that AI is now finding its way onto the agenda in every industry, not just  tech.

Best regards

Ben Reid
Executive Director

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Attend The Waikato Dialogue:  The Implications of Emerging Disruptive Technologies for International Security and New Zealand on 20 September at the University of Waikato.  The deadline for abstract submissions is 17 August.

Join Tech Marketers for their Connect Events on 21 August in Wellington, 22 August in Auckland and 23 August in Christchurch and meet Kiwi Landing Pad’s Sian Simpson.  Attend AIMCOM, an AI event for marketers on 5 September in Auckland.  

The University of Auckland’s National Institute for Health Innovation is currently gauging interest in a symposium on AI in Healthcare on 21 November in Wellington.  Please express your interest.

Attend the Robotic Process Automation Summit on 14 September in Auckland.  For a $65 early bird discount use promo code: 121_SPL.  The 31st Australasian Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence  is 11-14 December in Wellington.  

In local news, accountants call for an AI code of ethics.  The Chartered Accountants of Australia New Zealand report considers both ethics and governance guidelines. Read the full report here. Want to chat with an artificial human?  Soul Machines is looking for research participants.

Already, thousands have taken the pledge to ‘neither participate in nor support the development, manufacture, trade, or use of lethal autonomous weapons.’  Join the AI Forum and sign the pledge too!  Experts explain the debate here, plus FAQ.

Keeping your chatbot in check!  Read founding supporter Simpson Grierson’s latest article on legislation governing AI in public interactions.  Congratulations to the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 finalists including, FaceMe CEO Danny Tomsett.  Winners announced 27 September.

Considering exports? Learn how to select a market, find channel partners, create a unique value proposition and plan successful market entry at NZTE’s Export Essentials Workshops being hosted throughout New Zealand until November.

Forrester’s latest research suggests humans should prepare to work alongside intelligent machines.  Shifting the AI debate from either worse case scenario or business case to solving the world’s biggest problems – read about a third way with AI.

Save the date for Techweek’19, 20-26 May, 2019.  Did you miss the headline events at Techweek’18? Watch the presentations from the Fourth Revolution, Creative Realities,10 Billion Mouths and more from Techweek TV here.

Register your internship listing with Summer of Tech now.  Applications for the Edmund Hillary Fellowship (EHF) four cohort close on 2 September.  The Flux Accelerator is also accepting applications.

Join TechWomen’s Edwina Mistry at the Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Forum New Zealand, 27-29 August in Auckland.  For a 10% discount use promo code: TW10.

Register for the New Zealand FinTech Summit on 29 November in Auckland.  Save the date for the Tech Marketers conference, 28 February, AI-Day  28 March, 2019.

If you’re not on the New Zealand AI ecosystem map map, please email us. Have you been forwarded this newsletter? Simply subscribe here to receive your free monthly copy.

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Ben Reid I head up the AI Forum of New Zealand - working to harness the power of AI to help bring about a prosperous and inclusive future for New Zealand and the world. The AI Forum NZ brings together technology firms, businesses, universities and the government to connect, promote and advance the national AI ecosystem.