Google Is Sharing Its Powerful AI With Everyone in Its Cloud
Today at an event in San Francisco, the company unveiled a new family of cloud computing services that allow any developer or business to use the machine learning technologies that power some of Google’s most powerful services. Inside Google, these artificial intelligence systems deftly identify images inside apps like Google Photos; recognize commands spoken into Android Phones; and significantly improve the Google Internet search engine. Now others will be able to use them for many of the same purposes. During a lengthy keynote speech meant to highlight the company’s entire suite of cloud services—services it sees as an enormously important part of its future—Google new application programming interfaces (APIs) for identifying images, recognizing speech, and translating from one language to another, among other services.
The move is part of a widespread shift in the tech industry towards deep learning, a form of artificial intelligence that allows machines to learn tasks by analyzing vast amounts of digital data. Companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter have also made huge strides in the field, and many are openly sharing their technologies with others. This past fall, Google open sourced TensorFlow, the software engine that drives its deep neural networks. Microsoft has offered cloud services based on similar technologies. And now Google has done much the same. “This is the next transformation,” said Google chairman Eric Schmidt said on stage at today’s event.
A Piece of the Cloud
But today’s move is also part of an enormous effort by the Google braintrust to grab a bigger foothold in the all-important cloud computing market. According to tech research firm Forrester, cloud computing will be a $191 billion market by 2020, but at the moment, Amazon is well out ahead of Google and all other players, including Microsoft and IBM. Amazon pulls in about $9.6 billion a year in cloud revenue, while Morgan Stanley estimates that Google’s take is closer to $500 million. But Google has made cloud computing a priority, hiring former VMware CEO Diane Greene to run its cloud group and loudly proclaiming that the cloud could one day be its biggest moneymaker.
“It has become clear that the public cloud is the way of the future,” top Google engineer Urs Hölzle told WIRED in the spring of 2014. “One day, this could be bigger than ads. Certainly, in terms of market potential, it is.”
Hölzle is a former University of California Santa Barbara professor who joined Google in 1999 as employee number eight. In the years since, he has overseen the creation of what is likely the world’s largest private computer network, the global network of data centers and machines that underpins the Google’s myriad online services. In recent years, the company has invited other businesses to build and operate their own software and services atop this vast computer network, though not as quickly or aggressively as Amazon has.
Nevertheless, Hölzle predicts Google’s cloud revenues could exceed Google’s billions in ad revenue by 2020—quite a statement, considering Google is the world’s largest advertising company.
Still, Google’s technological expertise is undenied. Its machine learning technology, for example is well out ahead of the market. By making that a part of its cloud offering, Google is signaling just how seriously it takes the cloud. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, chairman Eric Schimidt, Diane Green, Urs Hölzle, and uber-engineer Jeff Dean all appeared at today’s event. The question is whether these big names can successfully sell Google’s tech to the world’s big businesses via this thing called the cloud.
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