GARGANTUAN TAIWANESE MANUFACTURER Foxconn employs more than 1 million people and tens of thousands of robots making iPhones and other electronics. It has a reputation for cost-cutting, including at the expense of its workers. Now, it’s teaming up with an artificial-intelligence researcher who helped trigger Google’s reorientation around machine learning in order to make its own factories more efficient.
Andrew Ng was a Stanford professor when he joined Google in 2011 to work on a project that created software able to recognize cats—and a new corporate emphasis on AI at Google. He later led AI research at Chinese search engine Baidu. Thursday, he disclosed his first major project since striking out on his own in March. It’s a startup called Landing.ai aimed at helping manufacturers make use of AI technology. Foxconn is among its first clients.
Ng says his company is needed because the manufacturing sector can’t yet make use of recent advancements in machine learning. Expertise in the field is scarce, and coveted by internet companies like his former employers. “Outside the IT world almost no one has access to the technology or talent,” Ng says, wearing a varsity jacket with “AI is the new electricity” in cursive script over his heart.
Landing will work consultant-style with clients to provide the expertise they lack—not unlike new services from Google and Amazon that have been availed by companies such as USAA and the NFL. Ng says his team is building tools it can apply across many different clients. A company video shows software spotting flaws on circuit boards and camera lenses, a tedious task Ng says is often done by humans. His team of around 20 is also tapping machine learning to adjust the configuration of equipment such as injection-molding machines to improve quality, or use of materials.