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Can AI step up to offer help where humans cannot?

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Eileen Yu began covering the IT industry when Asynchronous Transfer Mode was still hip and e-commerce was the new buzzword. Currently an independent business technology journalist and content specialist based in Singapore, she has over 20 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings. If applied inappropriately, artificial intelligence (AI) can bring more harm than good. But, it can offer a much-needed helping hand when humans are unable to find comfort from their own kind. AI hasn't always gotten a good rep.


Out of the box: Japan's vending machines get a modern makeover amid pandemic

The Japan Times

Late-night conference calls were the norm for Andy Lin when he was an engineer in California for a global semiconductor company. The time difference with clients in Taiwan, where the firm is headquartered, meant he'd often find himself feeling famished after most diners closed. One night he finished work at around 3 a.m. and decided to see if there were any vending machines that sold what he was craving -- satiating soup and noodles. Instead, he discovered on YouTube that there were vending machines serving hot bowls of udon (wheat noodles) in Japan 30 to 40 years ago. "I did some further research and found it was still popular because it's a (retro) machine that's still working and everyone wanted to try it," he says.


SoftBank's Vision Fund devotes more of its cash to Japan for first time

The Japan Times

SoftBank Group Corp. is lining up startup investments in Japan, aggressively pursuing entrepreneurs in its home market for the first time since its Vision Fund's launch. The Japanese startup scene is going through a revival, helped by an influx of young talent from private equity funds and consulting firms, said Kentaro Matsui, a managing partner at the Vision Fund who overseas Japan investments. Combined with a shift in strategy to invest smaller sums than its previous threshold of $100 million (¥12.8 billion), this has meant more opportunities for the world's largest tech fund to invest at home, he said. Japan's weight in SoftBank's overall portfolio will "definitely" increase, Matsui said in an interview in Tokyo. "The caliber of people in the companies we are investing in is clearly different" compared with 2018 or 2019, he said.


This Man Married a Fictional Character. He'd Like You to Hear Him Out.

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Mr. Kondo sees himself as part of a growing movement of people who identify as "fictosexuals." That's partly what has motivated him to publicize his wedding and to sit for awkward interviews with news media around the globe. He wants the world to know that people like him are out there and, with advances in artificial intelligence and robotics allowing for more profound interactions with the inanimate, that their numbers are likely to increase. It's not a political movement, he said, but a plea to be seen: "It's about respecting other people's lifestyles." It's not unusual for a work of art to provoke real emotions -- anger, sorrow, joy -- and the phenomenon of desiring the fictional is not unique to Japan.


In Japan, a lab is quietly building friendly versions of Dr. Octopus' robot arms

Mashable

Over the last five years, researchers at the Information Somatics Lab in Tokyo have made significant process testing and developing Dr. Octopus-like robot arms. The goal is to find effective ways to redesign the human body, focusing specifically on augmenting and multiplying our upper limb capabilities. Their work has come a long way over the years, from feet-controlled robot arms to appendages controlled movements in the shoulders.


Bay Area drone company Zipline starts delivering medicine in Japan

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TOKYO -- Zipline, an American company that specializes in using autonomously flying drones to deliver medical supplies, has taken off in Japan. Other parts of Japan may follow, including urban areas, although the biggest needs tend to be in isolated rural areas. Zipline, founded six years ago, already is in service in the U.S., where it has partnered with Walmart Inc. to deliver other products at the retail chain as well as drugs. It is also delivering medical goods in Ghana and Rwanda. Its takeoff in Japan is in partnership with Toyota Tsusho, a group company of Japan's top automaker Toyota Motor Corp. "You can totally transform the way that you react to pandemics, treat patients and do things like home health care delivery," Zipline Chief Executive Keller Rinaudo told The Associated Press.


Japan's traffic law revised to add rules for next-gen vehicles

The Japan Times

The Japanese government passed a bill Tuesday to introduce new rules for next-generation mobility, such as unmanned self-driving vehicles, automated delivery robots and electric kick scooters. The bill to revise the current road traffic law was approved at a plenary meeting of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet, following its passage at the House of Councillors, the upper chamber, last week. Under the revised law, a license system will be introduced for operators of transport services using unmanned vehicles with Level 4 autonomy, which requires no driver in the remotely monitored vehicle within a limited area. Such vehicles are expected to be used for residents in depopulated areas. The new rules obligate the operators of unmanned vehicles to prepare a system to ensure that staff would be sent out to the site of any accidents.


Top companies represented by Kaggle Grandmasters

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Described as the Airbnb for data scientists, Kaggle is a crowdsourcing platform for aspirants to nurture, train and challenge their learnings. The search for "Kaggle" has increased by 55 percent over five years, and the platform has over 8 million users across 194 countries. While the platform trains several aspirants, it also has many established data scientists. Analytics India Magazine analysed the top 100 Kaggle grandmasters as of April 2022 to explore the top companies represented by them. Here's the latest breakdown of what users do on Kaggle.


Honda's Asimo robot to retire after 20-year career wowing the public

The Japan Times

Honda Motor Co.'s Asimo humanoid robot will retire on Thursday, ending its 20-year career of wowing the public with walking and dancing demonstrations at a showroom at the automaker's Tokyo headquarters. Since its debut in 2000, Asimo has become a symbol of Japan's pioneering robot technology, mastering the abilities to run, hop on one leg, speak sign language using five fingers and pour coffee into a paper cup from a tumbler. But Honda stopped all development of Asimo in recent years after last upgrading it in 2011 to give it the ability to make autonomous decisions such as avoiding bumping into someone while walking. In September of last year, the Japanese automaker announced a plan to develop an avatar robot, allowing a user to operate it virtually from a remote location. The new robot will be equipped with a multifingered hand and an original AI-supported remote control function, the company said.


For some shrinking towns in Japan, depopulation isn't all bad news

The Japan Times

The alleys were mostly empty and the mom-and-pop stores still closed. An older lady pushed a stroller across the street. From behind the steering wheel, the small town in Tokyo's neighboring Saitama Prefecture appeared like any other sleepy community dotting Japan's rural landscape. Step outside and start exploring, however, and there's more to this place than meets the eye. A renovated Showa Era-themed hot spring greets locals and tourists alike, while traditional kominka homes have been transformed into cafes and inns.