This is an opinion piece. No references or citations. Only one informed view of things.
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is no longer purely the subject of academic discussion or random projects by maverick entrepreneurs. It is now a mainstream pursuit of top AI companies from various backgrounds that seek to create viable commercial products with innate machine intelligence using machine learning, neural networks, natural language processing, computer vision and other components of AI, as we’ve talked about before.
Some of the top AI companies you should know about are already enjoying top-line benefits by incorporating AI into their products. Let’s take a look at two such companies that should be on your investment watchlist, or at least your news radar.
This late-comer to AI is not exactly a slacker. It is, as a matter of fact, investing its entire future on artificial intelligence. I’ll explain that in a minute. Suffice it to know that Microsoft’s achievements in the field of AI are nothing to shake a robotic arm at.
Microsoft is one of the champions of AI because, aptly applied, it can bring a tremendous amount of firepower to its ubiquitous OS and productivity tools on the cloud. AI is the second piece of the puzzle, cloud being the other piece. While AI might have been born from Microsoft’s need to wean away from legacy products, today it is the mainstay of a company that will remain relevant for decades to come.
And Nadella’s Microsoft is also adept at changing directions mid-course, did you know?
After all, he successfully navigated the world’s most famous software company past the treacherous Waterfall of Office-solescence and through the Straits of (Windows) Pane into a forward-looking future, correct?
So why shouldn’t he successfully guide Microsoft into the two most important areas (and a half) in technology: Cloud and AI (and Mobile is the half, for now), I ask?
For some time now, Nadella has been hammering the need for Edge Intelligence as much as Cloud Intelligence. These are not technical concepts, mind you, but strategic ones that are defining the Microsoft of tomorrow.
This is a man to follow. If he jumped ship and took over as CEO of Apple today, I’d buy Apple stock. Well, I’d also buy Microsoft stock if Bezos took over but “hay”, I don’t do re-tail, said the blacksmith to the farmer whose donkey’s tail fell off.
I’m going to cut this short because Nadella has set the new direction for Microsoft, and it is inevitable that the Windows-maker will dominate both cloud and AI in the coming decades with its focus on mobility (not mobile) and productivity. Two market segments with demographics and indicators to kill for. And it all hinges on AI being ingrained into every software program and hardware circuit that Microsoft currently makes.
Nadella’s vision of an Intelligent Cloud being inter-governed by an Intelligent Edge is one of only a few well-crafted plans for bringing AI even more mainstream. I have great respect for this man, but my opinion is unclouded by that. He has simply aligned Microsoft to become a much larger entity than it was envisioned to be.
Alphabet née Google
Google is sort of the muddle-brained Golden Child of cloud, AI, autonomous driving and so many things that your own mind might be muddled with regard to what it actually does.
Hmm, so what does Google…or, more appropriately, the Alphabet entity of which Google is now a part…actually do?
Well, it does AI for sure. It does Search. It hosts videos. It sells ads. It does more AI, and maybe a sudden splurge-and-surge hubbub of activity for GCP as it built out its data center infrastructure over the past two years. But what does Google DO? More importantly, why am I calling it a top AI company?
The reason is simple. Although most of Google’s Moonshots of the past have met with inevitable failure (that’s what experiments are usually built to do – fail), a few investments have yielded in spades. Not necessarily as new products as much as familiar products with refreshed capabilities. That’s where I’d like you to focus.
Google Search is actively being enriched with AI programming to make it smarter, more intuitive and more user-targeted. This infusion of AI can be seen in YouTube search, Google Maps navigation and even Gmail. My Gmail just reminded me that a response I was expecting from a client was now three days overdue. I didn’t tell it to remind me; it just did because that’s the smart thing to do. Hey Google, how’d you do that?
Google’s foray into self-driving cars is well known, and it is possibly the only real rival of a self-driving fleet of hundreds of thousands of Tesla Model 3, Model S and Model X. It’s love child, Waymo, is now poised on the edge of high-level automobile autonomy.
The acquisition of DeepMind was somewhat of a hasty and over-aggressive entry into mainstream AI, and many within both companies – DeepMind and the resident Google Brain division – were uncomfortable with the acquisition and the level of autonomy that was afforded to DeepMind as a business unit of then-Google, Inc.
I used the term “muddle-brained” at the start of this section because that’s how Google has taken on Cloud Computing as well. An early adopter and extensive user of cloud architecture and infrastructure itself, Google couldn’t see the forest for the trees. It just couldn’t set up the kind of strong cloud presence that early mover Amazon did. But Google wasn’t going to miss the AI bus, for sure, and DeepMind was the perfect target.
Today, Google’s investments in AI are paying off, although nothing yet rivals its ad income. It is beginning to show bottom-line results, and that’s a huge achievement for Artificial Intelligence as a field of study. AI is making processes more efficient, eliminating redundant steps, speeding up workflows and even assisting in critical medical situations, and Google has the balance sheet and the digital assets needed to test virtually anything. And test anything virtually as well.
Probably the biggest trump card that Alphabet née Google holds over all other companies engaged in commercial AI is the data that resides in its servers and its cloud services. Big Data is an understatement for what Google has stored in its data centers.
Now it’s us missing the forest. Google has the largest repository of user data in the world, excepting government agencies, possibly. It is a platinum mine of commercially exploitable information that can be customized and conditionalized at will to create stunningly accurate insights. It is already feeding this information in spits and trickles to its business users, whether it’s for Google Analytics or AdWords or AdSense.
Just like Amazon and Walmart are experts on what people buy, Google knows what information people are looking for and what behavior patterns they exhibit online. And a whole lot more than that. Even if you didn’t fall for that old hoax that Amazon Echo and Google Assistant were eavesdropping on you at all times, you should know that everything about you that is not solely offline is available to the public; and, therefore, to Google.
It’s not that Google would ever intentionally turn on us and turn us into mindless cult-zombies that treat Google as the holy truth, mind you, but that’s exactly the effect it’s had on us as a society, isn’t it? We don’t search for something online; we certainly don’t Bing it.
Google has information that the world wants, and that information is now the foundation of a family of AI-driven hardware and software products. This is Google’s future: Keep the dominance in search and keep building a hardware portfolio to match your software-building capabilities, while leveraging an obscenely large amount of data with artificial intelligence.
In Part 2, we talk about another two top AI companies for you to follow. Read on, and do socialize.