Rapid growth of artificial intelligence in auto industry creating questions

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell


As auto manufacturers relentlessly embrace artificial intelligence as the future, there’s a concern in the industry over the gap between the pace of AI development and what society wants or is willing to accept.

Ziad Kobti, the president of the Canadian Artificial Intelligence Association, said a recent summit with auto officials focused more on the areas of law, privacy, security and ethics than technology.

“They need to make sure society and government align with technology in terms of acceptance of AI,” said Kobti, who is also Dean of the University of Windsor’s computer science program.

“They’re not entirely aligned now. There are a lot of unanswered questions.

“The legal system is reactive and the government is passive. They need pushing.

“The consequences are you’re going to be caught off guard with ethical and legal challenges.”

Kobti said that’s why the case involving an autonomous Tesla test car involved in a fatal accident is being watched so closely.

With autonomous vehicles close to appearing in significant numbers in the coming years, so many questions of liability remain unanswered.

Kobti added society has to decide just how much control and privacy it’s willing to hand over to autonomous vehicles.

The computers on board your vehicle record all kinds of information, including audio.

“Can insurers access that to see how you were driving last night?” Kobti asked. “You can track cars easily on your cellphone.

“Security and privacy are major issues automakers are working on to protect their vehicles’ operating systems.”

It’s one of the reasons why secure technology like RIM developed for its Blackberry smartphones has become of interest to automakers. There have already been examples of cars being vulnerable to hackers.

Kobti said he no longer uses his remote car door opener. For security reasons, he unlocks his car with a key.

“Those things are among easiest devices to crack,” Kobti said. “I learned that the hard way when my car got broken into in Miami.”

Concerns about privacy are also why Kobti doesn’t own an Alexa personal helper and he cautions not to leave your Xbox on.

Though there are an avalanche of legal and ethical questions on the non-manufacturing side of the auto industry, Kobti said it has been stunning how quickly and aggressively the Detroit region redefined itself as the world’s mobility tech leader.

“The industry invested massively in research and development,” Kobti said.  “Silicon Valley moved here.

“They’ve invested heavily in schools like the University of Michigan and the University of Windsor.

The industry stopped being reactive and became proactive. They understand with research and development come patents and if you own it, you can survive.”

That’s why so many non-traditional auto companies are partnering with OEMs while old rivals such as Honda-GM and potentially Volkswagen and Ford are joining forces.

“Partnerships have value and can create value,” Kobti said. “They’re looking for common or complementary technology.

“There are more mutual benefits than competitive disadvantages. It’s not just about cost.”

Kobti said Windsor’s tool and die/mold making sector has undergone a similar AI revolution to meet the demands of automakers. It’s made the area one of the world’s three centres of excellence in the industry.

“We’re well positioned to take advantage of AI,” said Kobti, who sees 97 per cent of the 160 computer science students who graduate each year from Windsor gobbled up before the end of their internships.

“I see a lot of investment coming into the city that’s under the radar.”

Kobti said he believes Quicken Loans won’t be the last firm to tap into Windsor’s advantages of talent pool, border location and affordable cost of living.

He noted there’s a growing segment of local companies designing software for a variety of sectors of the economy, from the auto industry to banking.

“There’s easily over a 100 such businesses here,” Kobti said.

“A company comes with a project and they write the software. The Amazons, the Googles and RIM are also hiring our students in large numbers.

“We are recognized as a top software development school.”

For example, Kobti said a University of Windsor graduate was part of a local team who developed software for the interactive screen display in vehicles used by drivers.

“It was one of our grads that developed the interface that allows you to touch the symbols on the screen and get it to connect to the computer onboard your car.”

Kobti said automakers are also significantly supporting University of Windsor researchers working on creating vehicle-to-vehicle communication. The technology would allow two vehicles to recognize each other in the fog or at a blind corner even though their drivers can’t see the other vehicle.

“Vehicle-to-vehicle communication is one of the next big things,” Kobti said.

“That’s being developed in the Windsor-Essex area.

“There’s a focus on safety and communications research going on here for the auto industry. There’s also a lot of research for the financial and banking sector too.”