Insight & Analysis

New industrial revolution beckons AI factories

Published: Nov 2023

A recent announcement by one of the world’s largest manufacturers signals a shift in how companies are positioning themselves in the ‘AI industrial revolution’. While there is much hype about the potential, many voices are warning of the risks an autonomous world can bring.

Cockpit of a self driving car on the motorway

With artificial intelligence (AI), the future isn’t just automated; it is autonomous. Self-driving cars may still seem like a lifetime away, but many are attempting to make it a reality. There have been bumps in the road, however, as General Motors found recently.

Cruise, the autonomous robotaxi service that is provided by General Motors, hit the skids in late October when California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) deemed the vehicles unsafe and ordered them to be removed from the roads, if there is no human behind the wheel. In response, the automaker said it was suspending the operations of its driverless cars across the United States, in a bid to regain public trust in the technology.

The Californian DMV was unsatisfied with the decisions made in accidents involving pedestrians, highlighting the need for AI to be trained on vast amounts of data to be effective – and safe.

The wave of companies interested in autonomous vehicles extends beyond traditional car makers, and Foxconn – the international trading name of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. – a major supplier of iPhones, has been developing autonomous vehicle platforms with accelerated computing company Nvidia.

In October, the two companies announced they would be building AI factories – an infrastructure that would be powered by accelerated computing to process, refine and transform data to build AI models. A statement from Nvidia reads, “Foxconn will integrate Nvidia technology to develop a new class of data centres powering a wide range of applications — including digitalisation of manufacturing and inspection workflows, development of AI-powered electric vehicle and robotics platforms, and a growing number of language-based generative AI services.”

In the case of autonomous vehicles, these AI factories would receive data from the cars as they are being driven – to train the models to make them even smarter, Nvidia Chief Executive Jensen Huang explained at Foxconn’s recent annual event. “This car would of course go through life experience and collect more data. The data would go to the AI factory. The AI factory would improve the software and update the entire AI fleet. In the future, every company, every industry, will have AI factories,” Reuters quoted Huang as saying.

Huang also said about the future of AI: “A new type of manufacturing has emerged — the production of intelligence. And the data centres that produce it are AI factories.” “Foxconn, the world’s largest manufacturer, has the expertise and scale to build AI factories globally. We are delighted to expand our decade-long partnership with Foxconn to accelerate the AI industrial revolution.”

Amid such excitement about AI – with many other companies investing in AI technologies (including generative AI) and data centres – there are voices of caution. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke of the dangers ahead of the AI Safety Summit in early November, an event that aims to coordinate the world’s stakeholders in this field to mitigate such risks.

In his speech, Sunak said: “Get this wrong, and AI could make it easier to build chemical or biological weapons. Terrorist groups could use AI to spread fear and destruction on an even greater scale. Criminals could exploit AI for cyber-attacks, disinformation, fraud or even child sexual abuse. And in the most unlikely but extreme cases, there is even the risk that humanity could lose control of AI completely.”

“Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war,” Sunak continued. He added he didn’t want to sound alarmist and acknowledged there are many who don’t believe this will happen at all.

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