LA Is Emerging As an 'Early Adopter' of Artificial Intelligence, Brookings Finds

Sarah Favot

Favot is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She previously was an investigative and data reporter at national education news site The 74 and local news site LA School Report. She's also worked at the Los Angeles Daily News. She was a Livingston Award finalist in 2011 and holds a Master's degree in journalism from Boston University and BA from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.

LA Is Emerging As an 'Early Adopter' of Artificial Intelligence, Brookings Finds

Artificial intelligence isn't only used to develop robots that flip hamburgers or lift boxes in a warehouse; it has permeated our daily lives. Netflix's algorithms predict what movies or TV shows we want to watch. Instagram serves up ads based on AI.

A new Brookings Institution report shows just how much it's become part of the fabric for Angelenos.

The Institution studied hundreds of metropolitan cities to evaluate their AI strength when it comes to research and how local businesses have adopted AI technology. Los Angeles landed among the top cities in the nation.

While the Bay Area dominates and is considered a "superstar," Mark Muro, senior fellow for the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, said L.A.'s status when it comes to AI was a surprising finding of his research.

"L.A. looks pretty formidable in that early adopter tier," Muro said. "It's not the Bay Area, but it looks very competitive with especially strong representation in commercial industry work in terms of company representation, job postings. It looks very, very strong."

A quarter to a third of all AI activity in the U.S. is concentrated in San Francisco and San Jose, Muro said. Seattle, San Diego, Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C. rank above Los Angeles with major universities conducting a substantial amount of research and tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google. Austin, Texas and Boulder, Colorado also rank above L.A.

L.A. companies outside of the traditional tech sector like Deloitte, Disney and Anthem ranked at the top when it comes to their adoption of AI, in addition to tech companies like Oracle, IBM and CrowdStrike.

"It may be that the biggest impacts in employment come from AI used by big companies or small companies in big industries," Muro said. "I think that's part of the special mix in L.A."

The COVID-19 pandemic has also increased the use of AI to replace some service sector jobs.

Joseph Fuller, an AI consultant and professor of management practice at Harvard Business School said that the pandemic has fueled AI's growth.

"It was already happening and it's accelerating. Suddenly [companies] had to do it, it was the only way to serve customers," Fuller said. "With more remote work, we had to be able to spread data and decisions and communicate more effectively."

The research found that AI is increasingly viewed as the next great "general purpose technologies" that has the power to transform many sectors of the economy and can spur economic growth through increased productivity and reduced costs.

While AI job postings have quadrupled in the past decade, Muro found, just 3% of all U.S. firms have adopted AI applications in 2018.

PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates AI's possible $3.7 trillion contribution to GDP in North America by 2030, the report noted.

Muro said Brookings undertook this research because it received a lot of inquiries from regional business leaders and economic development and tech people about the importance of AI.

He evaluated 384 metro areas and ranked them as early adopters, (the tier that holds L.A.), federal research and contracting centers, and potential adoption centers. There were 261 "others." The San Francisco Bay Area was its own category.

The goal of the report is not to spur cities that aren't as advanced into action, but to help them to first assess their positioning and then consider acting.

The report also discusses whether AI is going to be a "winner-take-most" industry or more spread out. Are these metro areas where there is a large concentration of AI research and commercialization going to dominate or do cities like L.A. and others stand a competitive chance?

Muro thinks it's early in the nascent industry and there's opportunities for L.A. to insert itself among the top echelon.

But, he warned, companies must be careful. Even as more and more industries are adopting the technology of the future to speed up processes or add efficiencies, there is a dark side. Biased algorithms used by mortgage companies reportedly denies applications from people of color in larger numbers.Facial recognition technology used by police can more frequently misidentifies people of color. And a recent incident involving Facebook's algorithms labeled people as primates.

Part of the problem is the tech companies in the Bay area have largely employed white programmers and coders that impose their worldview on the software. That's where L.A. has an advantage.

"A diverse, broadly distributed industry will likely develop fairer, more ethical products if it's developed in more places, and not just in the homogeneous Bay Area environment," Muro said. "The homogeneity of the Bay Area AI development community is a problem. Having more research and adoption conducted in more places, and in cities with greater diversity, will be important. "

"L.A. has got to make sure that more of its Black and Brown workers are at the forefront of technology."

Muro pointed to an article from the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence that found if it's not, AI will lead to "greater concentrations of wealth and power for the elite few who usher in the new age—and poverty and powerlessness...for the global majority,"

In other words, AI has a risk of allowing the powerful to become more powerful and the rich to get richer.

"These technologies do seem to spawn economic divides within places because they're very well paid," Muro said.

Reporter Samson Amore contributed to this report.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.