Artificial Intelligence

Google’s acquisition of DeepMind Technologies generated much interest in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). When Google makes its largest ever EU acquisition at a rumoured £400m, people take notice. When the acquired company doesn’t have a single commercially available product and is virtually unheard of, intrigue is heightened.

DeepMind is a London-based artificial intelligence firm which specialises in machine learning, advanced algorithms and systems neuroscience. So far, its technology has been used in simulations, e-commerce and games and there has been much speculation over how Google will make use of it.

Given the curiosity over this deal and the success of other existing companies making use of AI, we take a deeper look into the subject to understand what it is, what its applications are and who is already exploiting it.

What is it?

While recent news has brought the subject back to prominence, it is a long established concept. On a basic level, AI refers to computers (machines) doing intellectual tasks mimicking the human thought process in order to increase the chances of a successful outcome. Increasing processing speeds and an explosion in the volume of data mean that complex domains that used to be exclusively human can now be undertaken by machines. This covers tasks involving reasoning, recognising, planning, learning and communicating.

How is AI being exploited?

There are a vast range of use cases for AI. Some well-known examples include IBM’s Watson, a question answering machine utilised to win a quiz show, voice activated virtual assistants on mobile devices such as Apple’s Siri, and those in development such as driverless cars. In the case of DeepMind, Google has many operations that its suggested could benefit from its acquisition, such as search, robotics, voice recognition and e-Commerce. As we go on to highlight below, there are also many more subtle uses of AI with highly useful and practical applications.

Who is currently making use of AI?

Given DeepMind’s relative obscurity before the deal, who else is currently exploiting AI? Below we identify three companies operating in the field. Interestingly, DeepMind was founded by a Cambridge graduate and the three examples below all have a Cambridge connection. While not an exclusive domain of Cambridge, the UK has a strong heritage in this area.

  • SwiftKey uses machine learning and natural language processing as part of its predictive text technology for easier and faster typing on mobile devices.
  • Darktrace uses advanced mathematics to automatically detect abnormal behaviour in organisations in order to manage risks from cyber-attacks.
  • Featurespace uses predictive analytics for fraud detection and marketing analytics.

How will AI influence our future?

Concerns have been raised that the advancement of AI could lead to humans becoming redundant for particular tasks resulting in mass unemployment. Technological advances mean the risk exists that machines could take over people’s jobs at a faster rate than new roles could be created. However this has long been a theme of innovation and the hope is AI will help make us more productive, gain greater insight and reduce human error.

Does this herald the beginning of the rise of the machines and various science fiction film concepts becoming reality? We are still a long way off seamless interaction with virtual beings but their intelligence is rapidly increasing and one thing’s for sure, smart machines will help model our future.


Note: One of the partners in Delta2020 has a shareholding in SwiftKey