Toyota Bets Big on Artificial Intelligence ; Japanese Carmaker Plans Giant Facility in California to Push Robotics Research

By Markoff, John | International New York Times, November 7, 2015 | Go to article overview

Toyota Bets Big on Artificial Intelligence ; Japanese Carmaker Plans Giant Facility in California to Push Robotics Research


Markoff, John, International New York Times


The compound would be one of the largest research laboratories in Silicon Valley, bridging basic science and commercial engineering.

Silicon Valley is diving into artificial intelligence technology, with start-ups sprouting up and Google and Facebook pouring vast sums into projects that would teach machines how to learn and make decisions. Now Toyota wants a piece of the action.

Toyota, the Japanese auto giant, announced on Friday a five- year, $1 billion research and development effort to have its headquarters here. As planned, the compound would be one of the largest research laboratories in Silicon Valley.

Conceived as a research facility bridging basic science and commercial engineering, it will be organized as a company to be named Toyota Research Institute. Toyota will initially have a laboratory next to Stanford University and another near M.I.T. in Cambridge, Mass.

Toyota's investment invites comparisons to earlier research initiatives, such as the Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC, created by Xerox in 1970 to help the company compete with IBM. Xerox was never able to find a strategy to make it a significant player in computing, but the technologies invented at PARC during the next decade were used by Apple and Microsoft to completely remake the computer industry.

The new effort by Toyota is also the latest indication of a changing of the guard in Silicon Valley's basic technology research. Last year, for example, Microsoft closed a satellite laboratory of its Microsoft Research division in Silicon Valley and laid off about 75 researchers.

Corporate research done by Internet companies like Facebook and Google has generally focused on things that can be turned into a product or service, breaking with the traditions of industrial laboratories run by AT&T and IBM, which focused on basic science.

International corporations like General Electric; Baidu, the Chinese search engine; Samsung, the South Korean conglomerate; and all the major automakers have been establishing research outposts in or near the region to take advantage of its engineering talent.

Artificial intelligence technologies were disappointing for decades, but they have finally begun paying off, leading to systems such as Siri, the personal assistant from Apple, and rapid improvements in self-driving vehicle technology.

And in recent years, there has been a rush to recruit talented researchers in so-called machine learning, many of them produced by Stanford and the nearby University of California, Berkeley. Toyota plans to hire 200 scientists for its artificial intelligence research center.

"The density of people doing this kind of work in Silicon Valley is higher than any other place in the world," said Gill Pratt, a roboticist and former official at the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, or Darpa, who will lead the new company.

The new center will initially focus on artificial intelligence and robotics technologies and will explore how humans move both outdoors and indoors, including technologies intended to help the elderly. When the center begins operating in January, it will prioritize technologies that make driving safer for humans rather than completely replacing them. …

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