2016 could go down as the year artificial intelligence took the world by storm. Of the approximately 140 acquisitions of AI companies since 2011 tracked by CB Insights, 40 took place this year alone. Dollar funding for AI companies reached an all time high in Q2 2016, says the research firm.
While we’ve focused on spotlighting emerging AI companies thus far on the Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute blog (see Narrative Science, OneSpot, Automated Insights, Cortex, Boomtrain, Scoop.It and MarketMuse) tech giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM and Amazon are accelerating their transformations into becoming AI-first companies. Artificial intelligence is already improving the products and services these firms offer—having a direct impact on how marketers and the public at large work and play.
This is our first in a series of posts that go deep on the current AI landscape. We’ll look at how the biggest players are investing in AI, what types of AI they’re using and how AI integrates into their long-term business plan. Finally, we’ll connect the dots to show you what this means for marketers and business owners.
To start, this post summarizes how eight of the most influential companies are using AI. After this post, you’ll have enough context around each player’s AI efforts to get the most value out of later in-depth analyses.
Google’s forays into artificial intelligence are a critical ingredient to how its core offering, search, functions. The company acquired DeepMind, an AI startup, in 2014. Google also has a team dubbed Google Brain that incorporates AI into everything from YouTube (which Google owns) to translation to photo recognition.
This is part of an effort, according to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, to be “AI first.” Artificial intelligence is used in many products Google sells or provides, including Google Translate, Gmail, search, AdWords and its voice-controlled Assistant functionality on mobile. Up next: the company, like others on this list, is recruiting to create machine learning capabilities in the cloud. This could spell a play to build a platform on which AI applications can be built, a process Google has already started with its free-to-use TensorFlow open-source machine learning library.
- The Great AI Awakening, The New York Times
- Google, Facebook and Microsoft Are Remaking Themselves Around AI, Wired
Facebook uses several AI technologies as part of its core product offerings. When the platform suggests you tag someone or shows you a story or ad it thinks you like, you’re seeing AI at work. Facebook was relatively late to the AI race, Pedro Domingas, AI expert and author of The Master Algorithm, told Fast Company in June 2016. But the company is investing to catch up: 40 of its teams and more than a quarter of its engineers use AI in the products they create, reports Business Insider.
Some of those efforts include experimenting, like Google, with an artificially intelligent chatbot to enhance its messaging product. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is getting personally involved in AI efforts: he recently published a post about building AI for his home to get “a better sense of all the internal technology Facebook engineers get to use.”
- Facebook’s Race to Dominate AI, Fast Company
- Facebook Gives a Lesson on AI, Business Insider
Microsoft is fully invested in the race to master artificial intelligence. Quartz breaks down the company’s position:
“Artificial intelligence has been the company’s touchstone technology since Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual personal assistant was added to Windows more than a year ago. Since then Microsoft has released a deluge of AI-bolstered features in its operating system and standalone software.
Skype is augmented with real-time translation. You can talk to bots built on Microsoft software on nearly any messaging platform, and a suite of tools for developers mean the apps you use every day can be configured to call a Microsoft server to identify a face in an image or run speech recognition.”
In December 2016, the company also announced that its investment arm, Microsoft Ventures, would invest in AI startups and back Element AI, a Montreal-based artificial intelligence incubator. Reports TechCrunch: “[Microsoft] has reorganized its own R&D to focus way more on AI, and now it is investing in third-party companies working in this area.” The head of Microsoft Ventures wrote in December the company aims to “democratize AI.”
- Microsoft’s New Plan Is to Flood Your Entire Life with Artificial Intelligence, Quartz
- Microsoft Ventures Launches New Fund for AI Startups, TechCrunch
IBM has gone all-in with a massive bet on AI being the future and the core of that bet is Watson, its “cognitive computing” system. To date, the company has spent billions on the technology and has 10,000 people working for its Watson business unit. Watson first made waves by winning Jeopardy, but now is being leveraged in industries as diverse as healthcare, marketing and cybersecurity. IBM has promoted Watson not just as a solution, but as a platform on which to build the next generation of AI solutions.
- IBM’s Big Bet on Artificial Intelligence, The Wall Street Journal
- IBM Is Counting on Its Bet on Watson, and Paying Big Money for It, The New York Times
Amazon has been using various forms of AI for years. Its recommendation algorithms are a basic form of artificial intelligence. More recently, the company’s Echo home device with its Alexa assistant uses natural language processing (NLG) to answer queries. In November 2016, Amazon opened up internal AI tools to developers. Initial capabilities include image recognition, text-to-speech and chatbot creation.
Apple was the first tech company to use an artificially intelligent assistant, Siri, in its operating system. The company recently purchased Turi, a machine learning company, the latest in a series of AI acquisitions. And AI is integrated into many parts of the iPhone and iOS beyond Siri, including map functionality, caller identification and photo recognition.
Overall, Apple has been relatively close-lipped about its AI research until recently. Perhaps spurred by allegations AI was not a priority for the company, Apple is giving its AI pros more leeway to publish their research.
- The iBrain Is Here, Backchannel
- Apple Is Finally Going to Start Publishing its AI Research, Business Insider
In September 2016, Salesforce revealed Einstein, the suite of AI and machine learning technologies now baked into its core CRM platform. Einstein offers a range of insights, predictions, recommendations and automation features across all Salesforce products. The company’s goal? According to the Einstein FAQ, to help you "become an AI-first company so you can get smarter and more predictive about your customers."
- Salesforce Einstein: Frequently Asked Questions, Salesforce
Called the “Google of China,” Baidu made $10.2 billion in 2015 and is bullish on artificial intelligence. So much so that Andrew Ng, a top AI researcher from Stanford, is the company’s chief scientist. The company has an AI platform called Baidu Brain and a machine learning one called PaddlePaddle. These platforms are integrated with the company’s search engine. The company has 1,300 people dedicated to AI as of writing.
In the coming weeks, we’ll publish posts that deeply analyze what these companies are doing with AI. Subscribe so you don’t miss them.
As Chief Content Officer, Mike Kaput uses content marketing, marketing strategy, and marketing technology to grow and scale traffic, leads, and revenue for Marketing AI Institute. Mike is the co-author of Marketing Artificial Intelligence: AI, Marketing and the Future of Business (Matt Holt Books, 2022). See Mike's full bio.