Control of Artificial Intelligence Platforms, Key Variable in Tech Growth

John Markoff and Steve Lohr reported on the front page of the business section in Saturday’s New York Times that, “The resounding win by a Google artificial intelligence program over a champion in the complex board game Go this month was a statement — not so much to professional game players as to Google’s competitors.

“Many of the tech industry’s biggest companies, like Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft, are jockeying to become the go-to company for A.I. In the industry’s lingo, the companies are engaged in a ‘platform war.’

“A platform, in technology, is essentially a piece of software that other companies build on and that consumers cannot do without. Become the platform and huge profits will follow. Microsoft dominated personal computers because its Windows software became the center of the consumer software world. Google has come to dominate the Internet through its ubiquitous search bar.”

The Times article pointed out that, “If true believers in A.I. are correct that this long-promised technology is ready for the mainstream, the company that controls A.I. could steer the tech industry for years to come.”

Saturday’s article also noted this perspective on the A.I issue: “In this fight — no doubt in its early stages — the big tech companies are engaged in tit-for-tat publicity stunts, circling the same start-ups that could provide the technology pieces they are missing and, perhaps most important, trying to hire the same brains.

“Fei-Fei Li, a Stanford University professor who is an expert in computer vision, said one of her Ph.D. candidates had an offer for a job paying more than $1 million a year, and that was only one of four from big and small companies. On the candidate’s list, one of the biggest technology companies was ranked lowest, in terms of both money and excitement, she noted dryly.”

Markoff and Lohr noted that, “Now, Google’s A.I. program is drawing additional attention and pointing to a consolidation among tech’s biggest companies.

“By 2020, the market for machine learning applications will reach $40 billion, IDC, a market research firm, estimates. And 60 percent of those applications, the firm predicts, will run on the platform software of four companies — Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft.”

Nonetheless, the Times article indicated that, “Some start-ups, like Diffbot in Palo Alto, Calif., are willing to jump into the fray with industry giants under the assumption that there is still plenty to figure out.

“The company, which was founded by Mike Tung, a Stanford computer science graduate student, in 2008, recently raised $10 million to compete directly with Google. Even though Diffbot is still being run out of a home near the Stanford campus, Mr. Tung is thinking big.”

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