AI and machine learning are graduating from science fiction to reality. It's estimated that about half of large enterprises are currently experimenting with AI projects. Several vendors, including Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft, have donated machine learning development projects to open source.
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Elon Musk invested millions in an effort to make sure that artificial intelligence is used for good instead of evil, but for much of the general public AI still seems like science fiction -- something far out in the distant future. However, if you talk to people who work closely with this kind of technology, which has been called deep neural networks, deep learning, smart machines, or machine intelligence, you'll find out that it has advanced significantly in the past few years, and even bigger progress is coming very soon.
There are several signposts that indicate this progress, including big enterprises running their own experiments with AI systems, as well as a sudden wave of tech giants taking certain technologies open source.
"The vast preponderance [of projects in enterprises] is still experimentation," Gartner Fellow and vice president Tom Austin told InformationWeek in an interview. He estimates that about half of large enterprises are experimenting with "smart computing" projects. Organizations are examining problems and deciding whether AI can be applied to the solutions. These efforts are still in the early stages.
For instance, maybe an organization would transcribe call center agents' interactions with customers and then compare those transcripts to the agent-generated reports of those interactions to identify differences.
Austin didn't discuss how organizations would use that kind of information, but it's not difficult to see how it could be applied to rate the performance of call center agents and enhance training programs for them, a process that would subsequently improve the call center experience for customers.
"There are many large organizations who are actively looking at that kind of opportunity," Austin said. Lacking the in-house skills, he said, these organizations are going outside their own firms and turning to expertise in academia at AI and machine learning startups and at organizations such as Kaggle. "Enterprises are seeing [this access to talent] as a supply chain problem."
The arrival of smart machines or AI in the enterprise is not the only signpost showing the progress of these efforts. Another big indication is that several tech industry giants are contributing their machine learning development efforts to open source projects.
Tech Companies Donate Machine Learning to Open Source
Facebook AI Research (FAIR), which had already released to open source its deep-learning modules for the open source development environment Torch in Jan. 2015, last month announced another move. This time Facebook said it would release its server hardware design that's been optimized for machine learning to open source. Facebook has submitted the GPU-based system design materials to the Open Compute Project.
The company said that the system is designed for greater energy and heat efficiency, as well as ease of maintenance. Digital tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon that have large data center operations have long designed their own hardware rather than use the designs from others, such as HP Enterprise and Dell.
So, why the big wave of open source releases for machine learning-related development by these big companies?
Technology vendors are looking to spread their developments to a wider audience through these releases. That's according to Gartner Research Director Alexander Linden, who wrote about these developments in a blog post recently.
Gartner's Austin also pointed out that these companies are not giving away the most recent versions of their software. But even if they are releasing the older versions of it, they are spreading the influence and creating momentum. Consider Elon Musk's release all of Tesla's patents to all automakers in an effort to drive the advancement of electric vehicle technology, Austin said.
These releases to open source have been centered on machine learning. Machine learning and AI are two different things.
Machine Learning Does Not Equal AI
Experts say that the definition of AI has evolved over the years since it was introduced. It used to refer to efforts to make machines emulate the way the human brain works, and that is still a field of research today. Yet even today we are not even close to emulating the brains of less sophisticated organisms.
So, today AI means something different.
Next Page: Evolving AI and Machine Learning
Jessica Davis has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology at titles including IDG's Infoworld, Ziff Davis Enterprise's eWeek and Channel Insider, and Penton Technology's MSPmentor. She's passionate about the practical use of business intelligence, ... View Full Bio
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