Connection Point: Advances of AI, Japan-Dallas Ventures Explored at DRC Panel

By Dave Moore, Staff Writer, Dallas Regional Chamber

Imagine a world with tech that allows people to pay with a smile, or to securely board commercial international flights without a passport.

That technology – called artificial intelligence (AI) – exists today, and is advancing rapidly in the Dallas Region, thanks, in part, to collaborations with Japanese-owned companies, and local researchers and business leaders.

Nearly 70 business, nonprofit and government leaders met on June 6, at a joint convening of the Dallas Regional Chamber and the Japan/U.S. Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON). The overarching goal was to learn more about the current status of AI, and potential AI collaborations between leaders in Dallas and Japan. They also discussed the wild potential – both good, and bad – applications holds for humankind, and what considerations should be given before plunging head-over-heels into AI.

“In Texas, especially Dallas, you are seeing an increasing number of Japanese investments in partnerships … over the past 10 years,” said Fumiaki Kubo, a professor at the Tokyo University Graduate School of Political Science, and also a member of CULCON. “Texas is transforming itself into one of the most key states for Japanese stakeholders.”

Kubo cited his prior day’s tour of Toyota Motor North America – which relocated to Plano a couple years ago.

“It’s clear evidence that the innovation and technology is a driving force in this area,” he said. “So why not have a partnership here (among CULCON/business leaders and government)?”

Among those on-hand to discuss the increasing role artificial intelligence is playing in the Dallas Region’s business was Mani Suri, CTO of Dallas-based and Japanese-owned 7-Eleven. Suri said he considers AI to be an essential tool for his developers, and that the talent for using it isn’t limited to Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley CIOs “asked me, ‘Hey what about the talent in Dallas? Why here? Why not in Silicon Valley?” Suri said. “And …I said, ‘What’s the difference? Do they have a different brain cells? Do they eat something different? What is it? And if you think about it, it’s the empowerment. It is the drive. I think a lot of the corporations … are now saying, ‘Hey listen, we have the same enterprise standards and the enterprise processes, and everything else. We want to get into that startup kind of mode and let people take a risk and a chance, and that I think is going to fuel innovation.’ ”

Providing real-world examples of applications of AI was panelist Jay Jain, strategic planning director for Irving, Texas-based NEC Corporation of America. NEC – founded in 1899, and active in the Dallas Region for about 25 years – has been working with 7-Eleven U.S. for roughly 15 years. NEC has also been working with CaliBurger, helping the company implement an artificial intelligence/facial recognition software that allows customers – with their permission – to literally pay with their smiles.

“In 2006, we consolidated a lot of our operations from Silicon Valley into Dallas,” said Jain. He said that NEC is currently using artificial intelligence to help 7-Eleven with its security systems, but plans are to eventually weave facial recognition into customer experience.

“American AI is more business-centric,” said panelist Keio University Professor Motohiro Tsuchiya. “Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple … are trying to develop their own AI.”

Keio said the Japanese government is supporting human-centric AI development.

“Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe says we must enable the free flow of medical/industrial industrial/non-personal data, with no borders – it’s called ‘Data Free Flow with Trust,’ ” Keio said. The issue will be discussed in the upcoming G-20 Summit, which is set for June 24-29 in Osaka.

Also speaking at the convergence was Dallas native and artificial intelligence pioneer Dave Copps, who founded Brainspace, which was purchased by cybersecurity firm Cyxtera Technologies as part of a $2.8 billion deal. Copps’ new company – Hypergiant Sensory Sciences – uses AI to help companies understand the workings of their physical worlds. Copps said Dallas and Austin-based Hypergiant recently has formed a partnership with Sumitomo Corporation of Americas

“This (region) is doing a really good job of attracting incubators,” Copps said.

He said the region is also attracting entrepreneurs and innovators from across the United States. And the region has long been a center for large corporations.

“The world is shifting – everyone’s focused on innovation, realizing that that’s the way to grow — through innovation,” Copps said. “This is a place where capital, entrepreneurs and large corporations can come together and encompass great things.”

Copps said universities in the Dallas Region have also played key role in innovation as well.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but UTD (the University of Texas at Dallas) is (among the top) graduate engineering schools in the country,” he said.

Copps related a story about a UTD Capstone program that allows companies to harness the problem-solving brainpower of a university research team.

“For $8,000, you can have a group of students, led by a professor, working on a problem you’d like to solve for your business,” Copps said. “What we did is, we took a problem that we didn’t think was solvable. We figured we might have some fun with this, and make these students really frustrated. But … they came back with an answer.”

The June 6 convergence was part of the Dallas Regional Chamber’s quarterly Innovation Task Force Meetings.