Opinion: Google Has Some Pretty Vast Plans For A.I.

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Artificial intelligence, better known to some as simply A.I., is going to play a big role in the future of computing and how people interact with everything from their smartphones and other mobile devices to their consumer electronics and appliances around the home. Some of this is already possible with devices like the Nest Thermostat and Amazon’s Echo line of speakers that are powered by the Alexa software, but there is still plenty of room in the A.I. space for other companies like Google to make more waves on the consumer product side of things. While Google has dabbled quite a bit in A.I. for a while already and has done a fair amount of work with it, they should try to place more focus on A.I. in ways that are more accessible to the consumer, like a product that is powered by A.I. software that can be placed in the home or other areas to work in tandem with other smart devices. That’s of course, assuming that Google is not already working on numerous products and services or software that would fit snugly into this realm, which they very well could be doing under wraps until things reach a point that are much closer to completion. To be clear, though, Google has some vast plans for artificial intelligence.

Last week in the 2016 Google Founder’s letter, Google CEO Sundar Pichai talks about Google’s future across different areas of technology, and although there wasn’t much to be said in the realm of artificial intelligence at that particular time, Pichai does note that Google is “very good at A.I.” which may not have been a suggestion that they have some stuff in the works, but it does illustrate that they have the skills to produce something, or provide the software behind it. Pichai has also recently discussed some of what he envisions for the future of A.I. technology coming out of Google, consisting of a world without physical computing devices and wildly intelligent A.I. to assist humans with simple tasks. Google was recently in the news numerous times over the past month or two for their AlphaGo A.I, for taking on and beating international Go champion Lee Sedol. The AlphaGo A.I is part of Google’s Deepmind arm. DeepMind has also just recently acquired patient health records of more than one and a half million UK hospital patients in attempts to offer Patient care software such as an app capable of alerting hospital staff when a patient’s kidney may be about to fail. Things like this are more in line with what Google has been working on with regards to A.I., but it could certainly benefit them to have something on offer like Amazon’s Echo speaker which is powered by A.I. software, that can readily assist users in a number of different ways.



If Google were to offer something like the Echo to consumers, it would be something that they already have the software chops to help them produce something rather compelling. Google has done quite a bit of work with deep neural networks and machine learning technology that could be used as a backbone for such an item, and something like this would likely be easy to obtain for consumers at large. The Internet of Things is also where a decent-sized portion of the market with A.I. is headed towards. Amazon already has three speakers in its product lineup that are powered by Alexa software alongside its Fire TV. Samsung meanwhile showed off a concept smart speaker device at its recent developer conference that could potentially act as a smart assistant, and Sony showed off a smart assistant concept called the Xperia Agent back at Mobile World Congress at the end of February. That’s three major tech companies that all compete with Google on some level and are all working on things in the IoT industry which use some form of artificial intelligence.

While an A.I. driven smart home product may or may not be on the ticket for Google’s teams of talented engineers, it could certainly benefit the consumer. It would seem that Google’s visions for an A.I. connected future are much grander in scale, though. In a recent report from the MIT Technology Review, DeepMind’s Demis Hassabis talks about their very large goal of trying to create an A.I. which he refers to as a general A.I., one that is more human-like and is capable of learning to do and complete almost any task that a human can learn. This, of course, would be no easy task and is sure to have years of research and development ahead of it before anything comes to fruition, but it’s a lofty goal that displays Google’s planned efforts in the A.I. space are perhaps less consumer product oriented and more about bettering life as a whole in a number of different ways. Nevertheless, it paints a picture of the sort of possibilities that may one day become reality with companies like Google taking the reigns to dig deep into this particular area of technology, and if Google has the talent in place to work towards goals such as this, surely there has to be some corner of the company that has a desire to create something that focuses more on day-to-day things that we might interact with consistently. While a super-smart artificial intelligence with the power to learn on the same scale as a human sounds rather cool, it’s really only useful to the average person if it is able to help them in some way. This is where there would be room for technology and products built on Google’s A.I. software to be manufactured and put onto the market for consumers, from smart speakers to connected hubs. With Google's work on their IoT platform, Brillo and Weave, there may very well not be a need for Google to produce its own products if the platform is capable of connecting everything. Back during CES in the beginning of this year, Google already mentioned that they even had multiple partners on board to support these platforms in the Internet of Things market, including Alphabet-owned Nest. With Brillo and Weave gaining traction, this is another way Google could be pushing A.I., by making their platform compatible with A.I. products.

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Beyond smart computers that are capable of beating national champions and creating A.I. that can learn as fast as a human, Google has also been using A.I. technology with its most profitable product, Search. As of late last year, Google began using an A.I. technology called RankBrain to help filter search results, as reported by Bloomberg back in October of 2015. According to the report, the technology was able to often times had greater success in tests against experts that were asked to predict which search results would be ranked higher by Google, with RankBrain having a success rate of 80 percent over that of the 70 percent success rate of the human experts. This might seem less exciting than super smart A.I. that can learn how to play games or complete everyday tasks, but it’s one of the many ways that Google has been using A.I. to its advantage to help its own products perform better, which in turn can provide a better user experience. Let's of course not forget about Google's perhaps most popular work with artificial intelligence technology, the self-driving car. While they are not the only company in this particular area of the market, they might just be the most far along, even having recently struck deals with Fiat Chrysler on autonomous minivans. When it comes to artificial intelligence, Google seems to be working on multiple different angles of the market, from technology that ties into their own products like search to self-driving cars that may one day be able to allow drivers to relax on the way to work.