Mar 15, 2019
| 7 min read


How AI Powers Tech Giants, And What it Means: Part 1

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have become one of, if perhaps the most strategic area of technology development and investment. It’s clear that tech has become one of the most important drivers of shareholder value, with tech companies increasingly dominating the largest US stocks by market cap. In the past two years, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have each held the position as most highly valued company in the world.  

The application of AI and machine learning has become a central strategic push for the leading tech companies, and in Part 1 of this post we explore the relative initiatives, investments and offerings from several of the most prominent companies – Microsoft, Apple and Google. Have a look at Part 2 featuring Amazon, IBM and Facebook. 

Mister Softy goes all in on AI

Microsoft has been quietly building out one of the most formidable portfolios of AI-powered platforms, tools, applications and services. Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft launched a combined Artificial Intelligence and Research Group that encompasses Windows, Office and Azure in 2016. Also in 2016, Microsoft Ventures launched a new fund for AI startups with the first investment in Element AI, a Montreal-based AI incubator. In 2018, Microsoft acquired five companies built on AI and the company remains active in M&A.  

Microsoft employs AI across the product portfolio in a number of ways, including chatbots in Skype, automatic text transcription in Teams, analyzing data in Office 365 (Delve), building apps in Azure, supporting natural language interaction with Cortana and most prominently powering search results in Bing. Microsoft offers a broad portfolio of platforms and tools on Azure, Windows and Visual Studio for developers and ISVs.

The “I” stands for Intelligence

While the company has lagged other big-tech peers in terms of its AI investments, Apple uses AI to support a wide range of applications from SIRI to fraud detection, to optimizing battery usage in its devices. In an effort to close the gap, Apple hired Google's chief of search and artificial intelligence, John Giannandrea, to run machine learning and AI strategy. In terms of investments, Apple has made stakes in AI startups: Emotient, which produces facial recognition technology that can detect customer reaction to ads, Vocal IQ, a platform for voice interfaces, and Silk Labs’ AI software for consumer devices. Apple is currently focusing on protecting user data and providing transparency to the business as a way to differentiate its offerings to the consumer, as the business model is not based on data-powered ad sales like Google and Facebook. Apple has lagged other companies in research efforts as well, but has published a paper highlighted using AI for "training image recognition algorithms".

Google – Powered by AI

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has been a leader in research and development and investment in AI and Machine Learning technologies. The company’s core search business is fundamentally dependent on predictive algorithms and machine learning to deliver search results that are monetized through advertising. "In the long run, we're evolving in computing from a 'mobile-first' to an 'AI-first' world“ said CEO Sundar Pichai in 2016.

The company kicked off the latest big wave of M&A when it acquired deep learning pioneer DeepMind for $400mn in 2014.  Deep Mind has been used to optimize routing of internet traffic and also to power AlphaGo, the project that defeated the world champion Go player in 2016. Google has hired futurist Ray Kurzweil in his first ever job – and Gmail auto responses are one of his projects. 

Google uses AI in many of its products and services such as speech recognition for Google Assistant and Google Home, image recognition for Google photos, and many other services. In terms of tools, Google made its machine learning system TensorFlow free to anyone. The company has launched People + AI Research initiative (PAIR)to study and redesign the ways people interact with AI systems.  

Make sure to stay tuned for Part 2 where we will explore how Amazon, IBM and Facebook are utilizing AI and machine learning.


Want to gain insights from companies transforming through AI? Join Ed Maguire and featured speakers from Senseye and RevTwo for our next webinar, AI: The Next Wave in Productivity in Connected Industry on March 21st.

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