Even without being obvious and visible, AI is a pervasive part of our lives, and tech giants are, to varying degrees, invested in AI as a channel of growth
Artificial Intelligence (AI), a sub-field of computer science, can be understood as the conceptualisation, development and implementation of computer systems designed to perform tasks traditionally requiring human intelligence.
Understandably, the avatar of AI is the robot, but AI is really the advancement of the technology and logic that said robot operates on. From an implementation perspective, robots are also by no means the only physical manifestation of AI.
In fact, AI has been pervasive, and the tech giants that we are familiar with have all, to varying degrees, invested in AI as a channel of growth.
Recall how Facebook cleverly suggests tags for uploaded photos. This image-recognition technology is a form of AI. In fact, the very newsfeed that you sees the moment you logs onto Facebook is a product of backend machine learning.
Facebook’s algorithms are picking up data about you, and continuously tweaking your feed and — it goes without saying — the advertisements directed to you. Facebook’s AI embodiment may appear subtle in this regard, but when one begins to see Facebook as a personal social network manager and channel, as opposed to a lifeless harbour of information (comments, photos, posts), then Facebook’s AI strides are perhaps better understood.
The e-commerce giant’s AI buildout is most visible in two ways. Amazon Echo is a voice-activated smart speaker featuring a personal assistant, Alexa, that can tell you the latest news, play you music, or answer just about any question — thanks, of course, to the power of the Internet. The ‘smartness’ of Alexa — how it can interpret questions and provide appropriate answers — exemplifies the AI element.
An underpinning of AI that is illustrated here is that computer systems are built to outperform humans; Alexa will likely answer a trivia question faster than the random person on the street because it is connected to the Internet.
Additionally, Amazon is also developing technology for drones to ship their goods. Notably, these plans go beyond the development of drones itself and include flight coordination and the mapping of airspace for the drones to traverse safely in.
Cortana, in simple terms, is Microsoft’s answer to Google Now and (Apple’s) Siri on the B2C front. It is a personal assistant application for the Windows platform. Microsoft has, in fact, been making AI waves in the form of bots.
Xiaoice is a chatbot developed primarily for the Chinese market, and her capability with processing natural language — her ‘smartness’ — was so vigorous that she became somewhat of a celebrity in China.
Surely, the type of personality traits typically necessary to laud humans to celebrity status, when present in AI, must be a testament to the progress of AI using humanisation as a scale. Skype Translator, which literally translates conversations in different languages, is owned by Microsoft as well.
This year, Apple acquired AI startup Turi Inc. for around US$200 million. Turi, according to its website, is a machine learning platform for developers and data scientists. This perhaps highlights the obvious — that AI is not exclusively B2C — and that behind the closed doors of corporations (and startups), AI is changing the way companies operate, which consequently impacts the quality of the products and services we receive.
On the B2C front, Apple’s most well-known AI endeavour, Siri, may no longer be limited to responding based on voice prompting in the near future. Earlier this year, Apple acquired Emotient, an A. startup specialising in evaluating emotions based on facial expressions. Notably, Apple has also been testing self-driving cars and these will very likely incorporate its AI developments.
Google Now, a mobile personal assistant similar to Siri and Cortana, only scratches the surface of Google’s AI efforts. Google’s AI depth is encapsulated by Google Brain, a deep learning research project that aims to solve AI hurdles.
Just as Google made its Android platform open-source — meaning the source code is freely modifiable, accessible and shared — TensorFlow, a development of Google Brain, is an open-source software library for machine learning. Earlier this year, the company also purchased AI company DeepMind for more than US$500 million. Most recently, Starcraft II developer Blizzard opened up the game to DeepMind for AI research.
Collaboration is key
Facebook, Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft have come together a form a Partnership on AI with the goal of developing best practices for the technology and advancing public knowledge of the field.
Regardless of the companies’ agendas, this partnership highlights the understated fact that AI is powerful technology that will play a big part in how we interact with each other and with tech in the future.
A battle among the tech giants for AI supremacy, when viewed as a natural type of business competition that enhances efficiency, cannot be denounced. But, wouldn’t an (admittedly) exaggerated extrapolation of competition across AI creators conjure up images of drones and robots attacking each other with humans as collateral damage?
Care must be taken to not let one-upmanship — a game the tech giants of today play to survive — amplify the power of AI too greatly to the extent that its creators become powerless.
Image Credits: ktsdesign / 123RF Stock Photo
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