Google is a company that’s reinvented itself many times over the years. Google is about search. Google is about local. Google is about mobile. Google is about the cloud. Google is about social – well maybe not that one. On Tuesday last week we got a couple of hours insight into what Google plans to turn itself into next. Ignore the pretty phones – they’re nice but not going to change anything. The 4K Chromecast is impressive but won’t make a difference. The Wifi hubs are near identical to Eros’s hubs already available. The big thing that google showed off was something that not so long ago would have sounded like Science Fiction – AI or machine learning.
Let’s stop and let that sink in. One of the biggest companies in the world that’s renowned for having among the best and brightest people working for it is basing their new direction on Artificial Intelligence. If your mind is jumping towards Skynet and Terminator stop and relax. Google’s AI is still fundamentally dumb and not self aware in any way but it’s good enough at pattern matching and understanding the spoken world to actually be useful.
It’s been in development at Google and a number of places for years but the last year or so has seen something funny happen. Usually a new technology would be locked down, secret and protected by armies of lawyers. With machine learning the opposite has happened. Facebook open sourced BigSur. Google open sourced Tensorflow. Microsoft open sourced CTNK and so on. So why is this? They’re not looking to control the engine but to make use of the data they’ve collected in the most appealing way and be the best at answering our individual needs. Do that and we commit to their platform. Do that and they get more data and we get locked in and they can advertise against us or sell our data.
Simple? There is one outlier to this and they’re someone who’s got a surprising leap on the market. Amazon. Amazon don’t care about showing us adverts. They don’t care about our data – except in so far as it helps them to do the one thing they do well. That’s sell us stuff.
From a tech addicts perspective this is all very exciting – it feels like we’re just on the cliff of something potentially huge but as a consumer should you be worried? Yes. And no. I know that’s an unhelpful answer but after several days of thinking about it it’s the best I’ve got. The chances of Skynet being in our future are vanishingly small but conversely the chances of our privacy being slowly eroded are higher than they’ve ever been. Does that worry us? Historically people have been more than willing to trade security and privacy for extra convenience and the chances are this won’t change so it probably won’t bother most people.