Google has pinned its acquisition strategy on data, analytics, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). IBM is very focused in data analysis and levering its own AI technology, Watson, into other areas. All signs point to a looming battle between these two technology giants.
The Growth of AI
IBM has made it clear Watson is a big part of its future. At its IBM Connect 2014 conference in Orlando, Fla. this week, IBM talked about the merging of Watson and analytics technologies with broader platforms in social and collaboration. For example, IBM announced its Mail Next product will use analytics to help users automate the management of inbox items.
Analysts observed that the injection of AI technology goes further than just Mail Next. IBM is trying to tie Watson into nearly everything it does.
"The interesting part we learned this week is that IBM is working really hard to infuse Watson and Connexa in all of their enterprise social applications," said David Schubmehl, Research Director with International Data Corp. (IDC).
Meanwhile, Google's acquisition of DeepMind for an estimated $400 million show its thirst for AI and analytics tools. It's expected that Google will fold DeepMind's AI tech into collaborative platforms and search, including Google Apps, Gmail, and Search, making for a more automated customer experience.
"With DeepMind, it makes for Google, given its work with knowledge graph and semantic learning, that it will combine these things to make the next generation of automated assistant and automated technology," said Schubmehl.
Indeed, the larger pattern is the merging of collaboration apps, data, analytics and artificial intelligence to produce a sort of futuristic automated assistant — the ultimate customer experience. This is part of Google's vision of the future. And IBM has also publicly painted its own ideas of where Watson can improve social engagement and the customer service.
It's all part of a burgeoning field of AI technology. The only question is how fast it will happen and what other emerging startups will become part of the fold. AI technology is of great interest to many industries.
This may have been what led Google to pay such a high price for DeepMind, which is estimated to have less than 100 employees. There is a shortage emerging technology in AI and machine learning.
"There aren't lot of standalone machine-learning technologies," said Pedro Domingos, a professor of Computer Science at the University of Washington, in an interview this week. "Sooner or later they get bought by somebody. IBM, Google and Oracle want them. They want machine-learning as part of the products they offer."
Domingos says the applications for machine learning, as it has been successfully used to analyze data more efficiently in areas such as finance and healthcare. He says that social networks is the newest area of interest, because of the amount of data being created.
"It's being applied to social networks to learn what people are saying about your products in blog. And Facebook wants to know what type of [content and ads] to show you."
Faster, Better Decisions
IDC's Schubmehl says the search for AI in all industries is part of the same trend -- machine learning and data analytics help humans make better, faster decisions.
"All of these technologies focusing on AI and machine learning, it's about how this kind of semantic understanding going to help us make decisions faster and do our jobs," says Schubmehl.
As a consumer, however, you may not yet see the largest benefits from AI and machine learning technology. Despite advanced work by IBM and Google, most implementations so far are somewhat crude. And the more amateurish use of data mining had resulted in embarrassing gaffes, such as when OfficeMax mistakenly reminded a Dad that his daughter had been killed in a car crash with an errant junk mailing.
It's likely that it will be a decade or more before we see the real implementation of the vision of an automated, intelligent machine learning platform in collaborative and customer-service applications. But you can expect larger companies such as IBM and Google, as well as many others, pursuing technology to this end.
"AI is really at very early stages. If you look at Facebook, they have been hiring researchers right out of universities. Google must have been able to find these folks somewhere. It's fairly unusual to find a company like that."