- Alphabet is deploying AI and Machine Learning (ML) technologies to its commercial cloud computing service.
- The recent AlphaGo breakthrough indicates that AI is rapidly becoming a mature technology with a potential for world-changing applications.
- Google Cloud Machine Learning provides pre-trained models and a platform to generate and train user-specific models.
Alphabet Inc-A (NASDAQ:GOOGL) unveiled new cloud computing services that allow any developer or business to use the Machine Learning (ML) technologies that power the company’s most powerful services, Wired reports.
The recent, spectacular victory of Alphabet's AlphaGo program over top Go player Lee Sedol has been hailed as a major Artificial Intelligence (AI) breakthrough and indicates how AI is rapidly becoming a mature technology with a potential for world-changing applications. In fact, AI is becoming adept at more and more high-level cognitive tasks that used to be considered as too complex for automation.
"The victory is notable because the technologies at the heart of AlphaGo are the future," noted Wired. "They’re already changing Google and Facebook and Microsoft and Twitter, and they’re poised to reinvent everything from robotics to scientific research." The Wall Street Journal mentioned important applications to health care as well.
Other emerging AI applications on the horizon include social networks, targeted advertising, Big Data, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Self-driving cars, which are scheduled to hit the roads by the end of this decade and revolutionize urban life, will be powered by an advanced AI subsystem for autonomous navigation, machine vision, and context recognition, including collision avoidance.
All those sectors are of growing strategic importance for Alphabet, and therefore, the company is continuing to bet on AI and its sub-fields, in particular, Machine Learning (ML) and Neural Networks. But AI applications don't run on cheap smartphones in stand-alone mode yet - on the contrary, they require massive computing resources in the cloud. AI applications for smartphones and embedded systems, for example, applications to image and speech recognition, rely on state-of-the-art cloud computing in the back-end.
That's Alphabet's value proposition to its cloud computing customers: they will get commercial cloud versions of AI technologies of the future, which power AlphaGo and other advanced systems developed by Alphabet's research in AI. Coca Cola (NYSE:KO), Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS), and Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), are among the users of Alphabet's cloud computing service.
Re/Code notes that the Internet giant is betting on AI features to distinguish its computing cloud from those of Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). Alphabet announced a cloud version of its open source AI tool, TensorFlow and AI APIs for enterprise customers, including systems for machine translation and automatic image analysis.
"I’ve become convinced that there’s a new architecture emerging," said Alphabet's executive Chairman Eric Schmidt at the company's cloud computing user conference. “This platform is not the end; it’s the bottom. There’s something above it. And that something is machine learning.”
"Google Cloud Machine Learning provides modern machine learning services, with pre-trained models and a platform to generate your own tailored models," states the Google Cloud ML website. "Our neural net-based ML platform has better training performance and increased accuracy compared to other large-scale deep learning systems. Our services are fast, scalable and easy to use. Major Google applications use Cloud Machine Learning, including Photos (image search), the Google app (voice search), Translate, and Inbox (Smart Reply). Our platform is now available as a cloud service to bring unmatched scale and speed to your business applications."
At the user conference, Alphabet specified that the bigger impact of its cloud computing offering is allowing businesses to deploy the company's advanced methods on their own data. “They can take their data and actually build insight,” said ML expert Jeff Dean.
Besides a powerful cloud computing back-end, developing modern AI applications needs human talent. Therefore, Alphabet announced in November that its ML system TensorFlow would become an open-source project, with the very permissive Apache 2.0 license, open to external users and developers. By open-sourcing TensorFlow, Alphabet effectively recruited - for free - an army of new developers to improve its AI products and keep them state-of-the-art.
With the deployment of advanced AI methods to its commercial cloud, Alphabet is making its cloud computing offering more appealing to key customers, and at the same time enlisting other large companies to develop powerful AI applications that run on Alphabet's technology. It seems likely that open-sourcing ML technology and making it available in the cloud are smart moves that will cement Alphabet's position among the very few leaders in the emerging AI sector.