The AI fight is escalating: This is the IT giants’ next move


Artificial intelligence is where the competition is in IT, with Microsoft and Google both parading powerful, always-available AI tools for the enterprise at their respective developer conferences, Build and I/O, in May. 

It’s not just about work: AI software can now play chess, go, and some retro video games better than any human — and even drive a car better than many of us. These superhuman performances, albeit in narrow fields, are all possible thanks to the application of decades of AI research — research that is increasingly, as at Build and I/O, making it out of the lab and into the real world.

Meanwhile, the AI-powered voice technologies behind virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon.com’s Alexa and Samsung Electronics’ Bixby may offer less-than-superhuman performance, but they also require vastly less power than a supercomputer to run. Businesses can dabble on the edges of these, for example developing Alexa “skills” that allow Amazon Echo owners to interact with a company without having to dial its call center, or jump right in, using the various cloud-based speech recognition and text-to-speech “-as-a-service” offerings to develop full-fledged automated call centers of their own.

Some of the earliest work on AI sought to explicitly model human knowledge of the world in a form that computers could process and reason from, if not actually understand. That led to the commercialization of the first text-based “expert systems.” Those early systems didn’t come by their expertise the way humans do, learning by experience over the course of their career. Instead, the experience was spoon-fed to them following a laborious process of humans interviewing other humans, and distilling their implicit knowledge into explicit rules.

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