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Artificial intelligence takes center stage at CES 2017

Amazon, Google AI tech drives wave of new smart gadgets

LAS VEGAS, U.S. Artificial intelligence stole the limelight at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, while tie-ups in the self-driving technology arena also made a splash at the annual trade show.

Companies from China and South Korea were among those showing off high-performance yet reasonably priced AI-powered gadgets, while Nvidia, a major U.S. semiconductor company, announced it will collaborate with mapping services companies such Zenrin of Japan, Baidu of China, and German automakers like Daimler and Audi to develop self-driving vehicles. Nvidia's tie-ups underscore the industry-spanning scope of this push.

STAR OF THE SHOW Amazon.com loomed large at CES 2017. The U.S. e-commerce giant has developed the Dash Button, a compact, WiFi-enabled device that allows consumers to order daily goods such as laundry detergent with just the push of a button. Having already teamed up with consumer electronics makers to create devices with the button embedded in them, Amazon's next goal for the device is to incorporate a voice-activated ordering system.

Advances in AI and cloud computing, most notably by Amazon and compatriot Google, have led to dramatic improvements in the accuracy of voice recognition, making speech-controlled smart devices a practical reality.

At CES 2017, Amazon hosted numerous events promoting the use of AI, and the company's focus on the technology has borne fruit. U.S. appliance company Whirlpool, two Chinese companies -- Huawei Technologies and Lenovo Group -- and LG Electronics of South Korea all announced the use of Amazon's AI technology in their smartphones and other gadgets.

AI-equipped devices are rapidly catching on in the U.S., opening up a potentially lucrative new field for consumer electronic makers. But it takes time to develop and "train" AI systems. Their in-house AI technology is not ready to launch now.

It is also difficult for Asian companies to compete with the U.S. in developing AI tech. For those businesses that are keen to penetrate the U.S. market, teaming up with a company like Amazon makes sense, as it drastically shortens the time needed to develop smart home devices.

Amazon was not the only AI heavyweight at the show. Sony, which is focusing on acoustic technology-based consumer electronics, showed off smart home appliances that use Google Home, a voice-activated speaker powered by Google's AI technology.

Samsung Electronics of South Korea, which aims to improve its software services by ramping up investment in the internet of things, stuck to its policy of self-sufficiency. Collaboration with the AI venture it acquired last year has yet to fully take off, leaving the company's presentation at CES 2017 somewhat subdued.

THE CHINA QUESTION With Samsung still reeling from a series of massive product recalls, its Chinese rivals are keen to move in on the lucrative American market. One of them, Huawei, delivered a keynote speech at CES 2017.

But the wind is blowing against Chinese manufacturers. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has blamed them for "stealing" jobs from American workers, and the possibility is growing that their business partners in the U.S. will shift more orders to American suppliers. Moreover, U.S. companies investing domestically will likely receive preferential treatment under the new administration.

Hisense International, a Chinese consumer electronics company which has a fairly large production base in Mexico, said it would consider moving production and development facilities to the U.S., depending on the conditions. Many Chinese manufacturers, however, entrust production to plants in China, which means relocating production bases to the U.S. is not a realistic option. For them, CES 2017 provided an opportunity to tout their plans for expanded investment in research and development in the U.S., as well as their track record of purchasing from U.S. companies.

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