Continuing in the odd tradition of Japanese robots, yesterday telecoms company SoftBank announced that it was testing a prototype of a new automated robot, “powered by love”, in its stores before a worldwide release in a few months. SoftBank chief Masayoshi Son announced “Pepper” the robot, and SoftBank hopes that eventually the robots could be used for domestic duties and even childcare. The robots will use a self-learning artificial intelligence system that is said to learn from human emotions and then upload them to a cloud-based server so that all robots can learn from the experiences of others. The robot was designed in collaboration with recently acquired French company Aldebaran Robotics, which has a history of producing such humanoid robots. SoftBank said it would test the robot in two of its stores before selling it internationally later this year. Prices start at $1,930.
FINSUM: Interesting to see how far artificial intelligence has come and how cheaply it can be delivered. Though one imagines SoftBank is going to have trouble convincing people that it is safe to leave their children under the care of a 4ft robot.
In a new report that is likely to prove influential to the net neutrality debate, the University of Pennsylvania Law School has published a new study which shows that US broadband speeds exceed Europe’s by a considerable margin. The study contradicts another recent report and is important because it lends credibility to the US’ current model of private sector web infrastructure development. Whereas the US leaves internet infrastructure development in the hands of private service companies, the EU has adopted a social model, where infrastructure is developed by the government and then leased out to service providers. Many advocates for net neutrality—the principle that all web content should be delivered at equal speeds—advocate Europe’s social model, but this report shows that the US’ current approach has provided better access overall. The divergence in approaches has lead to $562 of broadband investment per household in the US versus $244 per household in Europe. 82% of American households currently have access to high speed internet, while only 54% of European homes do. American homes consume 50% more bandwidth than their European counterparts.
FINSUM: While America may have broader coverage, the figures here show that Europe has been more cost efficient in delivering high speed access. Let the debate continue.
In a move that has infuriated China, the US government has decided to extend and raise tariffs on Chinese solar equipment, with some rates reaching as high as 35.2%. The government raised the tariffs after receiving a complaint from a domestic manufacturer that Chinese makers were finding ways to skirt the current import regime through complex offshore manufacturing arrangements which circumvented the rules through a technicality. However, the new tariffs will be more comprehensive, and are being seen as a move to protect the US’ domestic solar industry. China has reacted strongly, saying the US move smacks of protectionism, and that the tariff “would not solve the development problems of the US solar industry”. Domestic manufacturers have called the tariffs “a strong win for the US solar industry”, but even some in the US say it will hurt the sector, as the raised costs come at a time when solar was just starting to compete with fossil fuels in price.
FINSUM: The cold war of trade is heating up between the US and China, as the two countries battle each other economically on many fronts. The move will certainly protect US manufacturing, but it is a legitimate concern that it may hurt growth in the solar market by raising costs versus other energy alternatives.
A new technology is beginning to disrupt an age-old industry across the United States. For the first time, big data is having a large effect on the agricultural industry by arming farmers with knowledge of how best to plant their fields. Monsanto is debuting a new technology, which they acquired as part of a $1 bn acquisition, which has a digital map and soil samples combined with trillions of data points on weather, in order to help farmers maximise their crop output. The technology can even be integrated into planting machines, meaning a GPS-driven device can roll around a field itself and plant seeds at the exact depth and angle that the database indicates will maximise yield. Farmers who have trialed the technology are averaging gains of 5%. However, the new technology has started a fight over farm data and who owns it. Legally, the farmers own the data, but companies currently control it and are profiting from it—something the farmers want limited.
FINSUM: This is a major development in the agricultural industry and highlights the immense propensity for big data to transform industry, even those as old as agriculture.
In order to spread internet access to areas currently excluded from coverage, Google is planning to spend $1 bn or more to launch a fleet of 180 “small, high capacity” satellites. The satellites would offer an internet connection to millions of people who currently have little or no ground or cellular access to the web. Google is also working on a plan to deliver internet through high-altitude balloons. Google and other major tech companies, like Facebook, believe investing in providing internet to new markets will ultimately prove a wise investment as the growth in access will likely lead to an uptick in revenues. Many are skeptical of the plans, as the corporate landscape is littered with now defunct companies and initiatives which sought to drum up business with satellites. Some are predicting that Google will overrun its budget dramatically, with costs soaring to as much as $20 bn. The company will also have to overcome some major regulatory hurdles before launching the satellites.
FINSUM: In principle this seems both a noble and potentially profitable plan. However, the complications appear vast and complex, though if it works, it will be an unprecedented step towards a truly global internet.