Big companies, venture capital firms and governments are all banking on AI
BY MARK VICKERS
Let’s start with some of the brand-name organizations laying down big bucks on artificial intelligence.
- Amazon: Sells the successful Echo home speaker, which comes with the personal assistant Alexa.
- Alphabet (Google): Uses deep learning technology to power Internet searches and developed AlphaGo, an AI that beat the world champion in the game of Go.
- Apple: Developed the popular virtual assistant Siri and is working on other phone-related AI applications, such as facial recognition.
- Baidu: Wants to use AI to improve search, recognize images of objects and respond to natural language queries.
- Boeing: Works with Carnegie Mellon University to develop machine learning capable of helping it design and build planes more efficiently.
- Facebook: Wants to create the “best AI lab in the world.” Has its personal assistant, M, and focuses heavily on facial recognition.
- IBM: Created the Jeopardy-winning Watson AI and is leveraging its data analysis and natural language capabilities in the healthcare industry.
- Intel: Has made acquisitions to help it build specialized chips and software to handle deep learning.
- Microsoft: Works on chatbot technology and acquired SwiftKey, which predicts what users will type next.
- Nokia: Has introduced various machine learning capabilities to its portfolio of customer-experience software.
- Nvidia: Builds computer chips customized for deep learning.
- Salesforce: Took first place at the Stanford Question Answering Dataset, a test of machine learning and comprehension, and has developed the Einstein model that learns from data.
- Shell: Launched a virtual assistant to answer customer questions.
- Tesla Motors: Continues to work on self-driving automobile technologies.
- Twitter: Created an AI-development team called Cortex and acquired several AI startups.
Venture capital firms are also funding the AI revolution, pouring billions into AI startups.
In September of 2016, Fortune reported:
Equity funding of AI-focused startups reached an all-time high last quarter of more than $1 billion, according to the CBInsights research firm. There were 121 funding rounds for such startups in the second quarter of 2016, compared with 21 in the equivalent quarter of 2011, that group says. More than $7.5 billion in total investments have been made during that stretch—with more than $6 billion of that coming since 2014.
There are, of course, leaders in this area (see below), with Sentient Technologies top among them. The company has developed an intelligent system for online shopping that allows users to have a real-time dialogue with a kind of virtual salesperson. It adapts the products it shows customers as they browse through virtual catalogs.
Most Well-Funded AI Startups from 2011 to 2016 (as of June 15, 2016)
In addition, there are many other AI startups, and competition among them is, and will remain, fierce. John Koetsier, a contributor to VentureBeat, writes, “The companies that create, teach, and unleash AI agents successfully will be our first trillion-dollar companies, and they will own access to consumers that 2010-era Google and Facebook couldn’t even dream of.”
Governments also play a major role. The United States recently published The National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan. It states that in 2015 alone, the U.S. invested about $1.1 billion in unclassified research and development in AI-related technologies. This number would no doubt be much higher if we could add in the amount spent on classified AI R&D.
Yet, the spending in U.S. private and public sectors is just part of the overall global investment in AI. China, for example, has become a major contender in deep-learning research, which involves the use of computer algorithms to perform pattern recognition and analysis. “[A]although the United States was an early leader on deep-learning research,” reports Brian Fung in The Washington Post, “China has effectively eclipsed it in terms of the number of papers published annually on the subject. The rate of increase is remarkably steep, reflecting how quickly China’s research priorities have shifted.”
In short, AI spending is being driven not just by market factors but by geopolitical ones. Fung concludes, “When AI stands to transform virtually everything including labor, the environment, and the future of warfare and cyberconflict, the United States could be put at a disadvantage if other countries, such as China, get to dictate terms instead.”