Artificial Intelligence — or AI — is far from science fiction. For better or worse, we’ve already taken big steps toward creating computers that think independently.
You may be surprised to find out that along with academics and innovative startups, some of the world’s biggest technology companies are on the forefront of the research and development that is driving the race to true artificial intelligence.
Will computers ever pass the Turing Test, fooling a human into thinking they’re conversing with another human over an extended period of time? That will be one of the key indicators that AI has reached the tipping point, heading into the uncharted waters of true, self-aware artificial intelligence.
Most of us interact with computers that make decisions for us every day, at least in the form of recommendations. Chances are you might use a navigation app on your smartphone that calculates the best route to the restaurant a virtual assistant like Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) Siri has suggested you would enjoy.
These features are all powered by a form of artificial intelligence.
Taking on an AT-ST in Electronic Arts Inc’s (EA) Star Wars Battlefront? You’re going up against the game’s AI.
We’re still not at the point of AI where computers can “think” on the level of a human or become self-aware, but every year efforts get closer. Here are seven of the companies that are working on developing AI that could eventually be capable of passing the Turing Test.
Companies Doing Wonders With AI: International Business Machines Corp. (IBM)
One of the most visible technology companies when it comes to AI is also one of the oldest: International Business Machines Corp. (IBM).
IBM’s research into artificial intelligence goes back to the 1950s, and for many years, Watson — its Jeopardy-winning super computer — has been the most public face of AI.
Deep Blue, another IBM super computer, gained fame in 1997 for defeating the world chess champion.
IBM currently markets Watson as a platform that leverages machine learning and natural language processing to analyze large quantities of unstructured data for customers.
Companies Doing Wonders With AI: Alphabet Inc (GOOG, GOOGL)
In 2014, the company bought what was probably the world’s best known AI company — DeepMind — to further its progress in artificial intelligence development.
Primarily a software and services company, pushing the capabilities of AI is critical to many of Google’s ventures. The technology is central to helping prevent its self-driving car from hitting pedestrians, ensuring Android’s Google Now virtual assistant is keeping on top of your wedding anniversary and fine-tuning your Google Search results.
Like IBM, Google also has some fun with artificial intelligence. In March, its AlphaGo AI beat the reigning world Go champion four games to one. AlphaGo is extremely advanced AI technology that learns from its mistakes and from the techniques of its opponents and represents a big step forward in the race to develop true machine intelligence.
Companies Doing Wonders With AI: Apple Inc. (AAPL)
Apple may be primarily focused on consumer electronics — computers, smartphones, tablets — and streaming media, but it’s also actively exploring artificial intelligence.
Siri — the virtual assistant found in iOS, watchOS and tvOS — is at the forefront of Apple’s AI pursuits. The smarter Siri can be made, the more effective it is, whether that takes the form of anticipating when you should leave for an appointment or interpreting what you actually mean when you ask a question.
AI is also key to features like listening recommendations for Apple Music.
What may be Apple’s biggest push into artificial intelligence is currently deep under wraps. The company is suspected to be working on a self-driving car, and AI would play a big part of that effort.
If there was any doubt that Apple was interested in AI, the fact that it has acquired a number of AI-related companies lately, including Vocal IQ, Perceptio and most recently, Emotient should put that to rest.
Companies Doing Wonders With AI: Sentient Technologies
U.S.-based Sentient Technologies employs the world’s largest and most powerful artificial intelligence network.
How powerful? Sentient makes use of idle PCs around the world, amassing a network of several million PC cores across more than 4,000 sites.
The team at Sentient was involved in the development of Apple’s Siri. Since then, the company has developed an AI stock trading system, worked with MIT to develop an AI nurse that combats the deadly bacterial infection sepsis based on real-time analysis of patient vital signs and released Sentient Aware for e-Commerce, an “AI-powered online shopping associate.”
Sentient Technologies is also currently the most funded AI company, with $143 million raised to date, so expect it to continue being at the cutting edge as the importance of artificial intelligence grows.
Companies Doing Wonders With AI: Facebook Inc (FB)
Does Facebook Inc (FB) care about artificial intelligence? This quote from the company’s AI research page should send a very clear message:
“We seek to understand intelligence and make intelligent machines. How will we accomplish all this? By building the best AI lab in the world.”
Facebook says that AI is one of the three keys to its growth (along with virtual reality and devices to deploy internet access to remote areas of the world) over the next decade.
The recently announced chatbots for Facebook Messenger are a sign of what’s to come.
Automated customer service tools that can employ Facebook’s AI know-how to engage customers using interactive communication, chatbots represent a leap forward in the practical use of artificial intelligence. They have the potential to let businesses using Facebook Messenger replace more expensive, frontline human customer service representatives.
As the technology improves, it will eventually be indistinguishable from the real thing.
Companies Doing Wonders With AI: Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)
Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) has been in the headlines lately because of its latest foray into artificial intelligence. Unfortunately, Tay the AI-powered Twitter Inc (TWTR) chatbot, pulled an epic faceplant once unleashed, but the race to artificial intelligence isn’t all winning game shows and chess matches.
Microsoft is invested in AI research in a big way and it has implications for many facets of its business.
Software that learns from data improves Bing search results and makes the Microsoft Band’s health applications more accurate. It helps Xbox One games be more challenging and makes Cortana — Windows’ virtual assistant — become an increasingly important facet of the Windows PC and mobile experience.
And one day, it will help chatbots like Tay remain composed despite internet trolls, and may even power the triumphant return of Clippy, the infamous Microsoft Office assistant.
Companies Doing Wonders With AI: Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN)
Finally, it should come as no surprise that Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) is one of the companies helping to push artificial intelligence to the next level.
Behind the scenes, one of the keys to AI is the raw processing power needed to collect, analyze, learn from and makes decisions based on huge amounts of data. Not many companies have access to this kind of horsepower, but Amazon Web Services leverages the company’s massive investment in cloud computing to offer Amazon Machine Learning.
You can bet Amazon Machine Learning is custom tailoring the presentation of products on every visit you make to amazon.com and directing the bot that sends you those recommendation e-mails.
Amazon is also active on the virtual assistant front. Although it was late to the game compared to Siri, Cortana and Google Now and lacks a native smartphone platform to boost its popularity, Amazon’s Alexa has proven to be a surprise hit.
Amazon’s Echo speaker is Alexa-powered, providing an AI in the living room that can search for music, provide the weather forecast, order products online and control smart home gear, including a Nest thermostat.
Alexa is also involved in perhaps the last area you’d expect an Amazon service to be found: automobiles. At CES 2016, Ford Motor Company (F) announced plans that would see Echo owners be able to use Alexa to interact with Ford vehicles.
Between 2011 and 2014, over $2 billion was invested in companies focusing on technology and services related to artificial intelligence, while over 100 AI-related companies were part of a frenzy of mergers and acquisitions involving tech giants like Apple, Google and Amazon. And that pace is only accelerating.
In other words, get ready for AI — it’s the future.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.