The Strategist

Why Do American Hi-Tech Giants Need British Artificial Intelligence?

02/09/2016 - 15:06

The US technology giants such as Apple and the Microsoft began to buy up British start-ups involved in the creation of artificial intelligence (AI). What is the reason? The passion for innovation, or preparation for a new arms race?
It seems that Foggy Albion will soon become a conflux of innovations related to artificial intelligence. Unless, of course, American counterparts do not buy all it up – like recently Microsoft acquired SwiftKey, a developer of predictive keyboards for iOS and Android. Information on the transaction’s amount was not disclosed, but the foreign media report that it could reach $ 250 million.

Swiftkey Keyboard uses a semblance of artificial intelligence to predict what word the user wants to enter. The more the mobile device’s owner uses Swiftkey, the more accurate the keyboard becomes as it is learning during the operation. The same technology is used in a computer installed in Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair.

"We are looking for interesting technological innovations. It is no secret that London has become the place with the most developed start-ups ecosystem in Europe," – told CNBC anonymous source at Microsoft.

Just before, Amazon got interested in artificial intelligence with British roots, having bought in 2012 a Cambridge startup Evi Technologies, which develops an analog of Siri voice assistant.

In 2014, Google has spent £ 400 million ($ 582 million) for the purchase of DeepMind, specialized in learning algorithms of general purpose and their applications: simulation, e-commerce, games and so forth.

In 2012, Professor Larry Wasserman of Carnegie-Mellon described the startup as "a system that thinks". "At first I thought that this ambitious project is hard to implement as it combines such complex industries like neuroscience and programming. It takes huge amounts of money. But when I saw the list of known billionaires who have supported the project, I decided that the guys have a chance to realize our plans" , - he said.

After, DeepMind itself signed a contract with the University of Oxford to conduct joint research, and acquired long-term projects Dark Blue Labs and Vision Factory.

Apple dis not stay aside either. Recently, it became known that Apple acquired a startup Emotient, which uses artificial intelligence to determine emotions by facial expression. The financial side of the transaction was not unveiled.

One of the possible Emotient’s applications is an ability to analysis emotional response to advertising, which helps correct marketing strategy to improve its efficiency. Another application lies in the field of medical education: the program will help interns to better understand the signs that a patient gives in pain.

Experts point out that many of the AI start-ups were created on the basis of the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and heads of most of them are alumnus of these institutions. Encouraged by success of these startups, companies involved in different another AI project are multiplying with each passing day.

This is seen a positive trend in terms of creating a self-sufficient ecosystem of companies. Such a superorganism allows covering all areas of applied activity, and stimulates developers and scientists. Above that, the university area is convenient for nurturing new personnel. For example, many top managers of AI start-ups teach disciplines revolving around artificial intelligence, so that the new blood would constantly replenish AI systems’ development.

As for the major US tech giant, not everyone has a clear understanding of what to do with artificial intelligence technology, yet still wants to get it first, just to keep in store. Hence nervous hysteria with regard to buying British startups – at least to hold the competitors back.

Now, developers are embedding promising systems in updates for Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri. Many of Google's projects are classified as "secret", so we can only guess the corporation’s plans. Yet, it’s obvious that Google has resources for more serious use of AI systems.
Google’s first steps in the field of computer intelligence system, it must be said, look terrible - in the truest sense of the word. Take a look, for example, at a development called Deep Dream. It is supposed to give an answer to the question "What computers dream about?" First, the network showed up with photos, and then - with videos. It looks like a computer dreams of that from which a man wakes up in a cold sweat.

Google released Deep Dream as an open code. Anyone can use it. The artificial intelligence’s germ try to analyze any visual material and produce results. Sometimes it gets interesting, like some kind of a psychedelic art. However, most of the computer dreams resemble a nightmare. Hardly the system can differentiate between a human face and a tree. It desperately hopes to act sensibly, but does not know where to stop.

In the meantime, John Giannandrea, previously engaged in the development of artificial intelligence, was appointed as the new head of Google's search team. It nudges that the introduction of artificial intelligence will start with Google’s core business - the search engine.

Google is also working on autonomous vehicles, and even going to develop a new operating system for robots and similar automated and robotic production lines.