The Race Is On to Control Artificial Intelligence, and Tech’s Future
SAN FRANCISCO — The resounding win by a Google artificial intelligence program over a champion in the complex board game Go this month was a statement — not so much to professional game players as to Google’s competitors.
Many of the tech industry’s biggest companies, like Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft, are jockeying to become the go-to company for A.I. In the industry’s lingo, the companies are engaged in a “platform war.”
A platform, in technology, is essentially a piece of software that other companies build on and that consumers cannot do without. Become the platform and huge profits will follow. Microsoft dominated personal computers because its Windows software became the center of the consumer software world. Google has come to dominate the Internet through its ubiquitous search bar.
If true believers in A.I. are correct that this long-promised technology is ready for the mainstream, the company that controls A.I. could steer the tech industry for years to come.
“Whoever wins this race will dominate the next stage of the information age,” said Pedro Domingos, a machine learning specialist and the author of “The Master Algorithm,” a 2015 book that contends that A.I. and big-data technology will remake the world.
“在这场竞赛中胜出的人，将主宰信息时代的下一阶段，”机器学习领域的专家佩德罗·多明戈斯(Pedro Domingos)说。多明戈斯在2015年出版了《大师级算法》(The Master Algorithm)一书，他在书中断言，人工智能和大数据技术将重塑世界。
In this fight — no doubt in its early stages — the big tech companies are engaged in tit-for-tat publicity stunts, circling the same start-ups that could provide the technology pieces they are missing and, perhaps most important, trying to hire the same brains.
Fei-Fei Li, a Stanford University professor who is an expert in computer vision, said one of her Ph.D. candidates had an offer for a job paying more than $1 million a year, and that was only one of four from big and small companies. On the candidate’s list, one of the biggest technology companies was ranked lowest, in terms of both money and excitement, she noted dryly.
斯坦福大学(Standford University)教授、计算机视觉领域的专家李飞飞(Fei-Fei Li)表示，她的一名博士生接到的一份工作机会年薪逾百万美元，而这不过是此人从四家规模不一的企业拿到的其中一个机会。李飞飞语气平淡地指出，在这名学生的心中，以薪资和工作的激动人心程度来排名，垫底的是科技界的一家巨头公司。
At the University of Toronto, IBM pursued a start-up called Ross Intelligence that makes a smart legal assistant, and extended a free offer to use its A.I. software, called Watson. For IBM, the financial payoff would come if start-ups like Ross generated sales, followed by a revenue-sharing arrangement. “No upfront costs at all,” said Andrew Arruda, chief executive of the start-up, which moved last year to Silicon Valley.
在多伦多大学(University of Toronto)，IBM看上了打造智能法律助手的初创公司Ross Intelligence，主动提出让其免费使用自己的人工智能软件“沃森”(Watson)。对IBM而言，一旦Ross这样的初创企业有了进账，根据收入分配协议，它就能获得经济回报。“完全没有先期成本，”Ross的首席执行官安德鲁·阿鲁达(Andrew Arruda)说。去年，Ross公司搬到了硅谷。
For years, tech companies have used man-versus-machine competitions to show they are making progress on A.I. In 1997, an IBM computer beat the chess champion Garry Kasparov. Five years ago, IBM went even further when its Watson system won a three-day match on the television trivia show “Jeopardy!” Today, Watson is the centerpiece of IBM’s A.I. efforts.
Now, Google’s A.I. program is drawing additional attention and pointing to a consolidation among tech’s biggest companies.
By 2020, the market for machine learning applications will reach $40 billion, IDC, a market research firm, estimates. And 60 percent of those applications, the firm predicts, will run on the platform software of four companies — Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft.
In January, before the Google software’s latest Go victory, the scientific journal Nature published an article describing how the program had beaten a European Go champion in five consecutive matches, overshadowing an effort by another tech giant, Facebook, to promote its own powerful Go-playing A.I. software. Google’s software went on to beat the Go grandmaster Lee Se-dol 4-1 in South Korea this month.
IBM is making the broadest entry into A.I. Its Watson unit, set up as a separate division in early 2014, is both a software and a services business, with technology tailored to specific industries. More than 80,000 developers have downloaded and tried out the software, and the Watson division has 500 industry partners, including big companies and start-ups.
“It’s early days, but the long-term goal is to have hundreds of millions of people use Watson as self-service A.I.,” said David Kenny, general manager of the Watson division.
In 2015, Amazon and Microsoft both added machine learning capabilities to their cloud software platforms, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. The companies are using machine learning software to help customers spot patterns and make predictions in vast amounts of data.
2015年，亚马逊和微软分别为它们的云软件平台Amazon Web Services和Microsoft Azure增添了机器学习功能。它们在利用机器学习软件来帮助客户从海量数据中发现模式并作出预测。
Microsoft offers 18 machine learning services, including face recognition, text analysis and product recommendations. More A.I. capabilities, analysts say, should be announced at the end of the month, when Microsoft hosts a large conference for software developers in San Francisco.
Google is opening its A.I. technology to outsiders, seeking to attract developers. Last November, Google made the core of the machine learning technology its engineers use, called TensorFlow, available as free-to-use open-source software.
This week at a conference in San Francisco, Google showed off a new speech-to-text transcription service. The company also said its recently introduced vision software for identifying images would be broadly available soon, and it introduced new tools and training aids to help developers build machine-learning applications more easily.
Intelligent software applications will become commonplace, said Jeff Dean, a computer scientist who oversees Google’s A.I. development. “And machine learning will touch every industry.”