The first web search engines were stupid. For those old enough to remember, Yahoo was a great directory, listing a few thousand of the sites that mattered at the time. Later it added a search capability to better help find those sites. As the Internet grew, listing static websites in a pseudo directory made about as much sense as keeping a hand written journal of your favorite pages. The next generation of search engines used the concept of a metasearch, a search engine for other search engines; they were all terrible. Then a little upstart out of Stanford popped up and offered something the other site couldn't, Intelligence. Google provided results based on an actual algorithm called PageRank, and everything changed.
We are now on the cusp of another transformative change. When looking at Google, it is pretty clear why they excelled where so many others failed. The last 20 years are probably better known as the browser years. If you are looking for a website, you are either going to do one of two things; enter a URL and go to the site, but with millions of sites to choose from, this has become somewhat unlikely for all but the most traffic sites. Or the more likely action, you are going to 'just google it.'
The team at Google apparently understood this aspect of their user base and launched the Chrome Browser in September 2008. A mere eight years later the company recently announced more than 2 billion active installs or roughly 54.46% of the 3.5 billion people using the Internet now use the Chrome browser. Even more interestingly most of this growth occurring in the last ten months.
Chart provided by dazeinfo.com
But before you think game over, Google has won, think about the rapid advancement in AI and what that means for getting information. In a world dominated by AI, getting multiple pages of results listed by some arbitrary algorithm is pointless. Services like Siri have provided a glimpse of how the coming generation will come to expect a level of personalisation that a traditional search engine just can't provide.
Interested in buying a Washing machine? You could Google it. The result is essentially a giant ad with those paying the most getting top spot out of 116,000,000 results you'll never see. But what you want to know is what's the best washing machine for me? A father of 3 on a tight budget who can't deal with the possibility of it breaking down frequently. With AI, you get exactly the result you need. The one that has been purchased 1.2 million times by people just like you, and oh, and it's available tomorrow, for 25% off, if you buy it now.
In recent Twitter DM with Chris Messina, inventor of the hashtag and ex-Googler, said "The ten blue links that Google is famous for are less relevant in the era of conversational experiences and personalisation. In the earlier web era, getting discreet pieces of information and facts onto the web and making them available in a centralised index was a core challenge; now it's less about sourcing (given the growth of fact repositories like Wikipedia and Metaweb) but about understanding the user's intent through sentence-long queries (spoken or typed) and responding with information and insights blended from multiple sources."
The question, is it Google providing you this information? Maybe, but it doesn't have to be. Maybe Facebook could let you know based on what your circle of friends likes, or it could be that Amazon Echo there to serve your every need, or any number of other possibilities. But it probably isn't an endless number of Google search results. Herein lies the challenge for Google. AI is changing all the rules that made Google so powerful. The browser, and more specifically, the browser bar is dying. Replaced by hyper-targeted, user specific technologies.
Google isn't alone in seeing the growing opportunity for wide-scale adoption of AI. Last week I was invited to the first Intel AI day. At the event the company unveiled its latest offerings focused on what it described as "Artificial Intelligence" or a combination of data analysis, machine learning, deep learning and some smart software development. The event started much like you'd expect a big technology company to launch something new with news of a couple of strategic AI acquisitions and a new focus. Summarised as "Intel announces AI strategy to drive breakthrough performance, democratise access and maximize societal benefits." and a new goal to deliver up to 100x reduction in the time to train a deep learning model over the next three years.
Even more interesting were a few of the off-handed statements from Intel execs stating "AI is evolving. Just like us." and naming their new Ai enhanced chipset "Skylake" in what would seem to be a nod to the Terminator movie AI Skynet, but that's probably a post for another time.
Back to Google, during the event, Intel and Google announced a strategic alliance to help enterprise IT deliver an open, flexible and secure multi-cloud infrastructure for their businesses. The collaboration includes technology integrations focused on Kubernetes (containers), machine learning, security and Google open-source AI project TensorFlow. Long story short, from a marketing point of view, the term Cloud Computing is out, and Artificial Intelligence is in.
One of the best comments from this event came near the end as I sat in the press room overhearing the final discussion panel, I wasn't in the room to see who said it, but it struck me. "We are the last generation that will be smarter than our technology."
As the conversation shifted the opportunity and challenges for Artificial Intelligence for the average person, hit home. Those of means (money, education, location, etc.) will get super human powers augmented by data driven, people specific technologies. Those born of lesser means may be quickly left behind. In the next 5 - 10 years, 3 million US truck drivers will be the first to suffer as the transport industry goes driverless. Yes, there might be a person on board, much like a train has a conductor, but eventually, this will probably go away. Other service-oriented professions will quickly find itself overcome by better, faster and cheaper AI alternatives to human workers. The fundamental question regarding the mainstream adoption of AI is this; What does it mean to be human in the age of AI? It's up to us to define our future and whether we as society flourish in a technological utopia or languish in some post-AI dystopia.