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2017 will be big year for AI thanks to tech giants

Matt Kapko | Jan. 3, 2017
Technology's leading companies drove the evolution of artificial intelligence in 2016, and Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are all expected to push AI much further in 2017.

Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, says he expects Apple to build out AI features for Siri with more capabilities across iOS and macOS. "If Apple does enhance desktops, I would expect it to support far-field commands like an Echo or Google Home," he says. However, Moorhead believes a separate AI-fueled device such as Amazon's Echo is unlikely.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has also played up the strengths and promise of AI as it pertains to the company's future. During an interview with Nikkei Asian Review in October, he emphasized the relative immaturity of smartphones and predicted that AI will result in an "incredible future" for the iPhone.

Facebook explains foundational concepts of AI

Facebook's head of AI research, Yann LeCun, this month produced a series of educational videos that outline how AI works, what it can conceivably achieve and how people can get involved. "AI is not magic, but we have already seen how it can make seemingly magical advances in scientific research and contribute to the everyday marvel of identifying objects in photos, recognizing speech, driving a car or translating an online post into dozens of languages," LeCun wrote in a blog post.

The technology will be the "backbone of many of the most innovative apps and services of tomorrow," but it remains a mystery for many people who will eventually see AI influence their daily lives, according to LeCun. "Increasingly, human intellectual activities will be performed in conjunction with intelligent machines," he wrote. "Our intelligence is what makes us human, and AI is an extension of that quality."

LeCun also predicted that health care services and transportation will be among the first industries that AI transforms.

"The most meaningful thing Facebook can do in AI in 2017 is to make their chatbots useful, as so far they are weak and lack slick utility," Moorhead says. "Consumers are using them a few times, see they don't do much well and stop using them." 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently published a detailed year-end update on his personal challenge to build simple AI to run his home. Zuckerberg spent about 100 hours building "Jarvis" and concluded that even if he spent another 1,000 hours on the project, he still wouldn't be able to build a system that could learn new skills on its own. Zuckerberg's experience also reinforced his prediction that AI systems will be more accurate at reading senses than the human nervous system within a decade. "In a way, AI is both closer and farther off than we imagine," he wrote.

Ultimately, according to LeCun, Facebook has one goal with respect to AI, and that is to understand intelligence and build intelligent machines. "That's not merely a technology challenge, it's a scientific question," he wrote. "What is intelligence and how can we reproduce it in machines? The answers to these questions will help us not just build intelligent machines, but develop keener insight into how the mysterious human mind and brain work."


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