The Japan Times


First U.N. talks on rules for 'killer robots' end amid calls for faster action

The Japan Times

GENEVA – "Robots are not taking over the world," the diplomat leading the first official talks on autonomous weapons assured the meeting Friday, seeking to ease criticism over slow progress toward restricting the use of "killer robots." The United Nations was wrapping up an initial five days of discussions on weapons systems that can identify and destroy targets without human control. Experts say such weapons will soon be ready for battle. The meeting of the U.N.'s Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) marked an initial step toward rules governing such weapons. But activists warned that time is running out and that the glacial pace of the U.N.-brokered discussions is not responding to an arms race already underway.


Tesla broadens its horizons with plan to electrify big trucks

The Japan Times

DETROIT – After more than a decade of making cars and SUVs -- and, more recently, solar panels -- Tesla Inc. wants to electrify a new type of vehicle: big trucks. The company unveiled its new electric semitractor-trailer Thursday night near its design center in Hawthorne, California. CEO Elon Musk said the semi is capable of traveling 500 miles (804 km) on an electric charge -- even with a full 80,000-pound (36,287-kg) load -- and will cost less than a diesel semitrailer considering fuel savings, lower maintenance and other factors. Musk said customers can put down a $5,000 deposit for the semitrailer now and production will begin in 2019. "We're confident that this is a product that's better in every way from a feature standpoint," Musk told a crowd of Tesla fans gathered for the unveiling.


Japan's GPIF mulls use of AI in pension asset management

The Japan Times

The Government Pension Investment Fund is considering using artificial intelligence technology to manage its assets, sources have said. The GPIF, which manages public pension assets, believes the introduction of AI will enable much quicker and more elaborate market analysis than a human can provide, at a low cost, the sources said Thursday. The organization aims to introduce the technology on a trial basis as early as fiscal 2018, which starts in April next year, the sources said. Use of AI is spreading globally in the asset management industry. In the United States, firms including BlackRock Inc. and Goldman Sachs are already using AI in asset management.


Belated talks begin to rewrite rules protecting students from fraud as 87,000 seek loan forgiveness

The Japan Times

WASHINGTON – Education Department officials opened formal negotiations on Monday to rewrite federal rules meant to protect students from fraud by colleges and universities. The talks with university representative and student advocates are taking place as the department faces criticism for delaying consideration of tens of thousands of loan forgiveness claims from students who say they were defrauded by for-profit colleges. The 1994 rule, known as borrower defense, allowed loan forgiveness if it was determined that the college had deceived them. But the rule was rarely used until the demise of the Corinthian and ITT Tech for-profit chains several years ago, when thousands of students flooded the department with requests to cancel their loans. In 2016, the Barack Obama administration passed revisions to the rule, which clarified the process and added protections for students.


Investments by SoftBank's huge Vision Fund could shake up tech world

The Japan Times

SAN FRANCISCO – SoftBank Group Corp. is sending tremors through the tech world with a massive new venture capital fund for investing in startups that is expected to dominate the industry so thoroughly it's playfully referred to as a "gorilla." The Vision Fund's $100 billion coffers nearly equals the total amount pumped into venture capital-backed companies last year, according to market intelligence firm CB Insights, and some say it could be a game-changer for Silicon Valley. "SoftBank shows a remarkable amount of bravery, confidence and optimism to look to apply this much money in technology," said Bill Maris, who started Google Ventures nearly a decade ago and runs his own California-based investment firm Section 32. "I can't say it's a wrong bet, if you think the trends in tech will continue in the future. I would be much more worried if SoftBank was saying tech is dead."


Amazon to join rivals in Japan's emerging AI speaker market

The Japan Times

Inc. said Wednesday its smart speakers will debut in Japan starting next week. Amazon is dominant in the sector overseas, and its entry into the Japan market is expected to further fuel competition. The e-commerce giant said it will offer three Echo speaker models -- Echo, Echo Plus and Echo Dot -- priced at ¥11,980, ¥17,980 and ¥5,980, respectively. The voice-controlled devices are equipped with Alexa, Amazon's AI voice agent. "We are extremely excited to bring Echo and Alexa to Japan," said Tom Taylor, an Amazon senior vice president who overseas Alexa.


waymo-rolls-autonomous-vans-without-human-drivers-arizona-public-road-tests

The Japan Times

DETROIT – A self-driving car company created by Google is pulling the human backup driver from behind the steering wheel and will test vehicles on public roads with only an employee in the back seat. The move by Waymo, which started Oct. 19 with an automated Chrysler Pacifica minivan in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Arizona, is a major step toward vehicles driving themselves without human backups on public roads. Waymo, which is owned by Google's parent company, Alphabet, is in a race with other companies such as Delphi, General Motors, Intel, Uber, Apple and Lyft to bring autonomous vehicles to the public. The companies say the robot cars are safer than human drivers because they don't get drowsy, distracted or drunk. Google has long stated its intent to skip driver-assist systems and go directly to fully autonomous driving.


Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to join new ISS mission from 2019

The Japan Times

Astronaut Soichi Noguchi has been selected to take part in a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station starting around the end of 2019, Japan's space agency said Tuesday. It will be the third ISS mission for the 52-year-old, following earlier expeditions in 2005 and 2009. Training for the mission, which will be carried out in both Japan and the United States, starts from Nov. 20. "I am extremely honored as I may be able to witness a big turning point in the history of manned space flights," Noguchi said. Noguchi will be responsible for maintaining ISS facilities, including the Japanese laboratory module Kibo, as well as conducting experiments and operating the station's robotic arm.


Tokyo slashes building costs for 2020 Olympic Games by further ¥41.3 billion

The Japan Times

Tokyo has slashed its budget for 2020 Olympic facilities by an additional ¥41.3 billion ($360 million), an official said on Tuesday, amid mounting pressure to reduce the cost of hosting the huge sports event. Olympic planning officials have made the cuts by changing construction methods and installing cheaper temporary seats in some venues instead of permanent ones. This would reduce the total cost of building venues for the 2020 Games to ¥182.2 billion ($1.60 billion) from a previous plan of ¥224.1 billion ($1.96 billion), a Tokyo official said. Last year, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike ordered the plans for three venues to be revised as overall costs for the games spiraled to more than $25 billion -- four times the initial estimates when Tokyo won the 2020 bid. In June, the International Olympic Committee praised Japan for slashing 2020 costs from around $20 billion to $13 billion, but warned that soaring budgets could yet deter other cities for bidding for the games.


Candy-carrying drone crashes into crowd, injuring six in Gifu

The Japan Times

GIFU – Six people, including children, were injured Saturday when a 4-kg drone that was distributing candy at an event in Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, suddenly crashed into the crowd, the police said. Those hit by the drone ranged in age from 5 to 48, but most of the injuries were minor, such as scratches to foreheads and shoulders, the police said. The drone, about 85 cm in diameter and 55 cm high, was scattering sweets while hovering over a park in Ogaki as part of an event to showcase robotic technologies, the police said. The event was organized by a local tourism association. About 600 people, including about 100 children attending with their families, were on site at the time of the accident, the organizer said.