The Researcher Who Wants to Bring AI to Factories

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Landing’s initial clients will be in China and Japan, Ng says. Foxconn, the only one named so far, is a big get. Aside from its astounding size and deep relationships with premium brands like Apple, the company has shown an intense interest in using automation to cut costs.

In 2011, Foxconn CEO Terry Gou told the Chinese government’s news agency that it was planning to deploy 1 million robots over the next three years to replace workers and improve efficiency. But in July 2016, the general manager of Foxconn’s automation technology department committee told the South China Morning Post that the company had slowed the planned rollout, in part because of technical limitations, and at that point had deployed only 40,000 industrial robots.

Foxconn didn’t respond to a request for comment on its plans with Landing. Ng said he had recently visited Wisconsin, where Foxconn is building a new plant, but declines to say exactly what he’ll be building for the company.

Whatever it is, Ng claims that his startup won’t leave factory workers worse off. “AI can make a society where everything is much better and humans are freed from mental drudgery,” he says. Ng claims society can adjust to more powerful computers in industry by investing in education—and is smartly selling both the disease and the cure. He cofounded online education startup Coursera, where he is now cochair of the board, and launched a new project with the company to spread AI skills this summer.

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