The recent announcement that Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM have jointly formed the ‘Partnership on Artificial Intelligence’ to benefit people and society is an interesting development that will advance public understanding of the sector, as well as coming up with standards for future researchers to abide by. The fact that these founding companies are also fierce competitors might cast a shadow of doubt on the potential success of the venture. However, this behavior, coined co-opetition by Barry Nalebuff and Adam Brandenburger, is more common nowadays; described as the application of game theory to strategic management, it demonstrates the increased blurring of boundaries between cooperation and competition. Successful innovative strategies often involve partnering with their own competitors in specific areas, while still competing in others.
However, several successful innovation companies are conspicuous by their absence. Apple, Baidu and Yandex are missing from the announcement (as is Elon Musk – the heir apparent to Steve Job’s visionary role in Silicon Valley). Apple, which has been loudly trumpeting its own Augmented Reality and AI efforts in areas such as personal assistants, image recognition and voice control, is making it very clear that these two areas are key to its success in the future. It’s already been acquiring companies such as it has been active in acquiring first mover innovation companies Metaio and Faceshift.
It may appear that the founders of the alliance are attempting to lock-down this important technology sector for themselves – potentially the most important technology area of mankind - but the partnership insists that the door is open for anyone who wants to join and contribute.
That’s a good idea because the alliance founders, all of which rely on their ability to differentiate mainstream technology to compete against each other, will need the intellect of innovation companies to solve the really big issues standing in the way of practical and reliable AI machines.
An example of this is computer vision. What stands in the way of many artificial intelligence applications becoming truly useful and successful is giving the AI machine or application the ability to see objects and understand the environment it is operating in. Delivering true computer vision would have such a huge impact on performance that the public acceptance of AI applications would improve dramatically. The mandate of the alliance to ‘support best practices’ and create an ’open platform for discussion and engagement’ are crucial to the success of the alliance as it is unlikely that these technology innovations to make AI a reality will come from this group in their own right.
So the announcement isn’t a lock-down on AI for the big ecosystem players but rather is an opportunity for all innovation companies to engage in a larger AI ecosystem. The success of the AI Alliance will only happen if it makes good its promise to support its ‘platform for discussion and engagement’ through support of design, execution, and financial support. Companies like Kudan are actively developing Computer Vision engine technology such as SLAM that solves the issue of trying to simultaneously localise (i.e. find the position/orientation of) a sensor with respect to its surroundings, while at the same time mapping the structure of that environment. The Kudan SLAM engine is hardware agnostic and flexible enough to work across HMD and advanced embedded Artificial Intelligence applications. SLAM technology is a vital step towards giving computers the ability to visually see and interpret the environment they are operating it and identify objects within it.
While on the surface it would appear companies like Kudan are helping to bridge the gap between the open-source developer community and larger companies, they could also be the catalyst for the AI break-through the AI Alliance is hoping it can help encourage.
The AI alliance is a bold step, and only the biggest cynic would say that it was created with only financial gain in mind. In their own words, the alliance could make some significant steps towards the best practices for the ethics, safety, fairness, inclusiveness, trust, and robustness for AI research, applications, and services. Or it could be a gigantic gamble, a race to see which company recognises the key AI innovation technology first having used the alliance to minimise its exposure to risk and potentially using the alliance as a political measure to block their competitors’ activities and restrict strategies.
Only time will tell…Kudan is a computer vision company based in Bristol UK developing SLAM technology for ARVR, Robotics, IoT and Artificial Intelligence applications.