The Artificial Intelligence Revolution

10 Companies Advancing AI

As of last month, Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft are all joining forces to create a new AI partnership called the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society.
The collaboration, aside from having a lengthy name, will advance public understanding of AI, and agree on a list of standards for future development. Although there’s currently a clear domestic trend, AI has uses that stretch beyond analysing the traffic. A number of companies involved with AI research are looking well beyond family applications. Right now, though, the immediate aim seems to be to get consumers to adopt AI as part of their everyday lives. Despite calls from well-known figures (like Stephen Hawking) for the containment of AI, the creation of super-intelligence has been a relentless interest of various tech giants. But which companies are involved in encouraging this development, and what exactly are they doing?


1. Amazon

In 2014, Amazon shook up the tech world by releasing Echo, a smart speaker for the home powered by Alexa AI. Using the Alexa Voice Service, the device can answer questions, read audiobooks, report on news, give updates on traffic and weather, connect with home devices, and more. Alexa is now in direct competition with Google’s recently released AI assistant. The retail giant has also released a service called Amazon Machine Learning, which helps developers to create their own Machine Learning systems without the hassle of learning complicated algorithms.

2. Apple

By now, most people know what Siri is. However, what they might not know is that Apple has been researching and applying AI within their products for years. For example, Artificial Intelligence is used in Apple products to suggest regularly opened applications, remember map locations for recently visited destinations and identify callers that aren’t already saved in your contacts. The company is understandably cautious about revealing much more information than that to keep competitors (and everybody else) guessing. According to the tech leaders, though, they have ‘a lot’ of people working on AI. As confident as they may be, there’s not exactly been a wide range of releases to back them up. The new Apple AirPod earphones, which make AI constantly accessible via voice command, is perhaps the first of these products.

3. Microsoft

cortanaIf you’ve used Cortana, Microsoft’s digital personal assistant, then you’ve used AI. The corporation also has their own cloud computing service called Azure Cloud. It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Microsoft and Artificial Intelligence, though. In 2016, the company launched Tay, an AI chatbot experiment which learnt from conversations it had with Twitter users. The experiment failed when Tay began spouting Nazi propaganda and was quickly recalled. Now, as revealed by CEO Satya Nadella at a recent conference held in Dublin, Microsoft plans to use Azure to create the first AI-powered supercomputer.

4. Google

At the official launch of Pixel, Google’s new smartphone, the company also revealed a new domestic AI device called Google Home. They stated they were excited about the shift to Artificial Intelligence and had been working on their own AI since the search engine was founded 18 years ago. The aim of Google’s AI development is to approach human level accuracy in image and voice recognition. They’ve called their software the Google Assistant, and it’s built into every Pixel phone, making it constantly accessible for users. Google acquired DeepMind in 2014 for a reported £400 million. DeepMind is working with powerful learning algorithms with an end goal of creating an AI agent that learns for itself. Google is synonymous with getting clear, coherent answers, so their venture into AI after years of research has massive potential.

5. IBM

The multinational tech company revealed their cognitive computing system Watson in 2011 on the American quiz competition Jeopardy!. It competed against human champions, ultimately winning the show. Watson uses natural language processing and machine learning to find answers to questions, and is now used for a number of different applications. Most notably, IBM Watson has been used in the healthcare industry to make real-life medical decisions. IBM’s goal is to create AI which can interact with humans in a natural, coherent way.

6. Facebook

fb-ai-1Social media giant Facebook has begun incorporating AI-powered chatbots into its messaging app, Messenger. The business has also stated that it will build the best AI lab in the world (the Facebook AI Research lab – FAIR) to explore every aspect of the technology. The long term goal is to understand and make intelligent machines. Yann LeCunn, director at Facebook AI Research, announced the company’s plans to ‘solve AI’ through collaborating with the wider research community. It’s no surprise, then, that they’re one of the five members of the Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society.

7. Elon Musk

The CEO of Tesla Motors and SolarCity has teamed up with Amazon Web Services, LinkedIn and PayPal to create non-profit, open source AI. Like Stephen Hawking, Musk has spoken out about the need to be responsible when working with AI. He has stated that he will donate $10 million to the Future of Life Institute (FLI) to help run a research programme to ensure, basically, that AI doesn’t go rogue and decide it would be a good idea to destroy humanity.

8. Twitter

Although Microsoft didn’t exactly have the best experience with their Twitter-based AI experiment, Twitter is a major player in the advancement of AI. This isn’t because it’s actively researching AI, but because it offers real-time data and is therefore able to feed Artificial Intelligence systems with mass information. The social media site can offer brand analytics, trending topics, customer insights and a list of key influencers – and all of this info is constantly up to date. It’s this kind of site, teeming with Big Data, that is hugely valuable to any company developing AI.

9. Salesforce

einstein-750x422Last month Salesforce released Einstein AI. Einstein brings advanced artificially intelligent solutions into one platform, reportedly creating the world’s smartest Customer Relations Management (CRM) and Software as a Service (SaaS). Einstein is about making AI accessible, letting anybody use code to make AI-powered apps. This is contributing to open-source AI, which allows developers to modify software to suit their own needs. Einstein AI was built with sales and marketing in mind, collecting consumer information to improve business strategies. Salesforce is also rumoured to be interested in acquiring Twitter to add to their data access.

10. Intel

The technology company has been gradually acquiring AI startups, but this summer Intel made their move into Artificial Intelligence by announcing the development of a new version of the Xeon Phi processor that is specifically designed to enhance machine learning. Intel processors power over 97% of servers that support machine learning, so they’re well placed to work on Artificial Intelligence. Their new plan involves supporting open-source AI and advancing the technology in partnership with machine learning experts from recently acquired firm Nervana Systems.

From this list it’s clear that AI is no longer a future concern – it’s a fast-moving reality. There’s a distinct effort by a number of companies to create AI which is appropriate, positive and a real help to humankind. As AI breaks into the mainstream in the form of chatbots and social robots, it’s time to set out a code of conduct for further development. The partnership between Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, Google and Amazon epitomises a new approach that encourages open and collaborative research. Some companies – namely Apple – are holding back, but once the Silicon Valley partnership agrees on a list of terms for AI development, it will be increasingly hard to keep projects under the radar. When AI’s capabilities are so far reaching (and potentially damaging), this can only be a good thing. You have to wonder, though, whether attempts to control artificially intelligent systems might be too little, too late…