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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Equipped with GPS tracking, two-way microphones and a human pilot controlling it from far away, Coco's 50-pound pink robots rolling around San Pedro, Santa Monica and other parts of Southern California are hoping to become a local mainstay.
Welcome to the delivery robot race.
As delivery bots take to the streets, Southern California has become a testing ground for companies like Coco that are trying to distinguish themselves.
The Los Angeles-based startup announced Wednesday that it raised $36 million in a Series A round led by Silicon Valley Bank, Founders Fund and the former president of Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator and CEO of OpenAI Sam Altman.
Coco, previously known as Cyan Robotics, operates a fleet of semi-automated robots that deliver food across neighborhoods in Los Angeles. It's one of several semi-automated robot delivery services that have popped up in California over the years including Kiwibot, Starship and Nuro.
The bots are piloted by remote drivers. According to the company, hundreds of stores and restaurants have signed up to use Coco's bots, which fulfill orders within up to a two mile radius of the store.
Colapasta, an Italian restaurant in Santa Monica started using Coco several months ago after being approached by the company.
Owner Stefano de Lorenzo said fulfilling orders through Coco is slightly less convenient than working with drivers from delivery apps — staff has to manually load the food into the robot instead of just leaving the order on the table — but customer reception to the robots has been overwhelmingly positive.
"When we started using the service, I noticed that there were three, four or five different orders the same day to the same address," he said. "So I guess people were just loving (the robot) going to the house."
Rash said the company is aiming to shift how people think of food delivery: using small, lightweight electric vehicles instead of large, gas-powered vehicles transporting "a couple pounds of soup a couple blocks all day."
Rash declined to say exactly how many robots the company has in its fleet, but claimed that Coco has the largest fleet out of all the robotic delivery services in Los Angeles, where the city is weighing regulations that could limit how many robots operate in certain neighborhoods.
The proposed legislation would cap the number of delivery robots a company could place in a city council district to 75 and require machines to yield to pedestrians and obey traffic signals and signs.
Some cities have implemented measures to help robot delivery companies. Santa Monica, for example, implemented a "Zero Emissions Delivery Zone," where deliveries can only be made by robotic carts or Electric Vehicles.
This raise brings Coco's total funding to around $42 million. The company is hoping to continue to expand, and is planning to continue increasing its fleet.
Launched in 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has expanded operations from one Santa Monica neighborhood to six other neighborhoods in little over a year. In February, the company rolled out their robots in San Pedro, working with Councilman and mayoral hopeful Joe Busciano and the Chamber of Commerce. Several local restaurants including San Pedro Brewing Co. and Whale & Ale signed on.
Even as stores and restaurants continue to reopen after the pandemic, Rash said he's seen delivery sales numbers continue to increase and believes that delivery is here to stay.
"The pandemic gave it a huge boost," he said. "But I think what that really did is it changed consumers' behaviors and let them understand the convenience that they can have by ordering delivery."
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A Pasadena-based robotics company that helped build a Mars rover has found their new headquarters — and in a former neighborhood restaurant.
Motiv Space Systems has purchased the 4,990 square-foot building that formerly served as Robin's Wood Fire BBQ for $4 million as the 40 to 50-person company expands its production capacity.
"For our customers, [purchasing this building] shows a commitment to our industry," said Tom McCarthy, Motiv's vice president of business development. "We are trying to grow these capabilities and expertise. We want to provide adequate facilities and technologies in support of the programs and customers we work with."
The company, which builds space-based robotics systems, is mainly known for creating the robotic arm on the Perseverance rover used in NASA's Mars 2020 mission. Other areas Motiv works on include satellite servicing — that is, repairing spacecraft while in orbit — and designing equipment that can withstand extremely cold temperatures.
Motiv hopes to have renovations complete in less than six months, and the company plans to move in shortly after.
Robin's Wood Fire BBQ operated as a full-service restaurant for 37 years until the owner decided to close the restaurant in 2019. It has since been vacant.
McCarthy said the company was largely attracted to the building for its close proximity to the company's other property, which currently serves as its headquarters. Motiv now owns and operates two buildings.
The new building will be a space for Motiv's engineering staff to research, design and distribute products. Motiv hopes to have renovations complete in less than six months, and the company plans to move in shortly after.
Robin Salzer, the former owner of Robin's Wood Fire BBQ, expressed excitement towards the sale and the new use of his building.
"From ribs to robots, the property's next chapter will be exciting to watch," Salzer said in a statement.
Motiv shares a home in Pasadena with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. These companies — along with SpaceX and a growing number of startups — add to L.A.'s status as an aerospace hub.