Category Archives: Artificial intelligence

Accenture and IPsoft team up to launch AI initiative

Robotic hand, accessing on laptop, the virtual world of information. Concept of artificial intelligence and replacement of humans by machines.Accenture has expanded its partnership with IPsoft to accelerate the adoption and implementation of artificial intelligence technologies.

As part of the relationship the team will launch the Accenture Amelia Practice, a new consulting arm for Accenture which will develop go-to-market strategies using the IPsoft’s product offering to build virtual agent technology for customers. In the first instance, the team will target the banking, insurance and travel industries.

“Artificial intelligence is maturing rapidly and offers great potential to reshape the way that organisations conduct business and interact with their customers and employees,” said Paul Daugherty, Accenture’s CTO “At the same time, executives are overwhelmed by the plethora of technologies and many products that are advertising AI or Cognitive capabilities.”

“With our new Accenture Amelia practice, we are taking an important step forward in advancing the business potential of artificial intelligence by combining IPsoft’s world-class virtual agent platform with Accenture’s broad technology capabilities and industry experience to help clients transform their business and operations.”

The extended partnership will focus on creating practical implementations for AI within the current business world, using automation at scale to increase organizational efficiencies. The IPsoft team have implemented the same concept with a number of customers including programs to answer invoicing queries from suppliers and front-line customer service bots.

Artificial intelligence is seemingly one of a number of new areas being prioritized by the Accenture team, as industry continues trends towards a more digitally enabled ecosystem. Recent research from highlighted the digital economy accounted for roughly 22% of the world’s total economy, with this figure predicted to rise to 25% by 2015. This figure was as low as 15% in 2005. The same research also predicts growth of new technology will continue on an upward scale, as 28% of the respondents believe the pace of change will increase “at an unprecedented rate”.

While Accenture’s business has predominantly been focused around traditional IT to date, the team’s future business will shift slightly towards disruptive technologies, building on its new business mantra ‘Every Business is a Digital Business’. AI is one of those prioritized disruptions, as it described artificial intelligence and intelligent automation as the “essential new co-worker for the digital age”.

It would appear Accenture are betting heavy on these new technologies as it claims 70% of executives are making significantly more investments in artificial intelligence technologies than they did in 2013, and 55% state that they plan on using machine learning and embedded AI solutions (like Amelia) extensively.

Alibaba and Softbank launch SB Cloud for Japanese market

AlibabaAlibaba and Softbank have announced the establishment of SB Cloud Corporation, a new joint venture to offer cloud computing services in Japan.

The demand for public cloud in Japan and surrounding countries has been growing in recent years, with Japan leading the way as the most advanced nation. A report from Gartner last year estimated the total public cloud services spending in the mature APJ region will rise to $11.5 billion by 2018. Alibaba has targeted the region to grow its already healthy cloud business unit.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with the Alibaba Cloud team on the joint venture over the past few months,” said Eric Gan, the new CEO of SB Cloud and EVP of SoftBank. “During the business planning discussions, I quickly felt that we were all working very much as one team with one goal. I believe the JV team can develop the most advanced cloud platform for Japanese customers, as well as for multinational customers who want to use the resources we have available in Japan.”

SB Cloud will enable Alibaba to increase its presence in the market, where it already offers services to SoftBank’s business customer base in Japan, which primarily comprises of global organizations. SB Cloud will open a new data centre in the country, where it will now serve customers outside of established SoftBank customer base, offering data storage and processing services, enterprise-level middleware as well as cloud security services.

A recent report from the US Department of Commerce highlighted the Japanese market is one of the most competitive worldwide, though five of the six major vendors are American, Amazon Web Services, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Salesforce. Domestic companies, such as Fujitsu, have announced aggressive expansion plans. Fujitsu claims to be to investing $2 billion between 2014 and 2017 to capture an increased market share in cloud computing, primarily focused on the growing IoT sub-sector.

While Alibaba’s traditional business has been in the Chinese market, the company has been making efforts over the last 12-18 months to diversify its outreach. Last year, the company launched a new data centre in Singapore, as well as in Silicon Valley. It also launched what it claims is China’s first cloud AI platform last August, DT PAI. The purpose-built algorithms and machine learning technologies are designed to help users generate predictive intelligence insights, claiming the service features “drag and drop” capabilities that let users easily connect different services and set parameters, seemingly following IBM’s lead in designing a more accessible offering for the industry.

New HP Tech Venture Group may lead to HPE overlap

HPHP has announced the launch of HP Tech Ventures, the new corporate venture arm of the business, which will invest in IoT and artificial intelligence start-ups that could end up competing with HPE.

The team will aim to develop partnership and identify potential acquisitions within the new era of disruptive technologies. HP Tech Ventures, which will be based out of offices in Palo Alto and Tel Aviv, will be led by Chief Disrupter, Andrew Bolwell targeting new technologies in 3D transformation, immersive computing, hyper-mobility, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and smart machines in the first instance.

Following the split of Hewlett-Packard into two separate organizations, HP took the PC and printer assets, while HPE is now focused on enterprise-orientated technologies. Over the last several months, HPE has made numerous product launches and investments in cloud, machine-learning and IoT technologies, and HP Tech Ventures targeted technologies (IoT, AI, smart machines etc.) could potentially make the once combined companies, competitors. HPE also has its own venture arm, where it has invested in various cloud, big data and security start-ups.

“The next technology revolution is shifting towards strategic markets that speak to HP’s strengths,” said Shane Wall, HP Chief Technology Officer and head of HP Labs. “With our global brand and broad reach into consumer and commercial markets worldwide, HP can help start-ups bring product to market, build their business and scale in the global marketplace as they grow.”

The company has claimed it will be able to offer rapid scale to innovative start-ups, through its technology network, as well as its channel and distribution partners. The launch would appear to be one of HP’s strategies to counter the negative impact which declining PC sales is having on its traditional business, entering into new markets through potential acquisitions as opposed to organic growth.

IBM teams up with SK C&C to teach Watson learns Korean

Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul, South Korea.SK C&C has continued Korea’s efforts to increase the usage and adoption of cloud computing within the region, announcing a new strategic alliance with IBM focused on the Watson cognitive computing platform.

As part of the agreement, IBM will train Watson to understand and comprehend Korean, and South Korea-based developers will create a number of localized API’s and services to increase adoption rates of such advanced cloud computing technologies in the region. Korean will be Watson’s eighth language, lining up with English, French, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese, and Arabic.

“Watson remains at the forefront of cognitive computing: advanced systems that learn at scale, understand with meaning, reason with purpose and interact with humans in natural ways,” said David Kenny, GM for IBM Watson. “The South Korean marketplace is moving quickly to embrace the disruptive opportunities from next generation technology.

“Our strategic alliance with SK Holdings C&C will put cognitive services in the hands of more businesses and developers, allowing them to apply Watson within their organizations to help transform entire industries and professions.”

Korea has been making positive strides in recent months to increase the adoption rate of cloud computing within the country, announcing a number of initiatives in March. Adoption rates are reported to be as low as 6.4% within the country currently, which could be perceived as low considering the number of tech companies which has grown out of Korea, though the government is planning to increase this to 13% over the next twelve months. Over the same period, the government also plans to increase the number of Korean cloud companies from 353 to 500.

While this announcement focused on cloud computing as a broader technology set, the government also announced plans to invest 100 billion won (approximately $87.2 million) to foster the development of supercomputers. The Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning said it would invest 10 billion won annually for the next 10 years to boost the growth of artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet-of-Things technologies and other emerging industries through supercomputers. The ambition is to create a supercomputer with a data-processing speed of 1 petaflop (PF) in five years, eventually reaching 30 PF by 2025.

As part of the partnership between IBM and SK C&C, the telco will run Watson and Bluemix from its Pangyo Cloud Centre, to foster the growth of cognitive computing and artificial intelligence. More specifically SK C&C is hoping the introduction of the technologies will improve mobile device experience, as well as consumers’ call centre interactions. SK C&C will also become IBM’s preferred distributor for cognitive solutions in South Korea.

“This alliance highlights SK’s dedication to growing our artificial intelligence-based data services business, strengthening our Ai leadership position, as well as spurring innovation and Ai adoption across Korea,” said Park Jung-ho, CEO of SK Holdings C&C.

The partnership between IBM and SK C&C is one of a number of examples of IBM’s efforts to broaden the appeal to the international audience. SK C&C will assist in developing Watson’s advanced conversational capabilities in Korean, in the same way SoftBank is aiding for Japanese, Mubadala for Arabic and GBM in South America. Each of these companies, including SK C&C, are developing local communities of developers to build, explore and create new applications in their native languages. Korean language Watson services are expected to become available early next year.

AI forms backbone of Facebook’s 10 year plan

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook has seemingly positioned artificial intelligence as one of the catalysts for innovation for the company over the next 10 years.

Outlining its technology roadmap for the next 10 years, the company highlighted artificial intelligence, as well as virtual and augmented reality, as technologies to drive new features and user experience. New features highlighted include translation, photo image searches, ‘talking pictures’ and real-time video classification.

“Artificial Intelligence will power all kinds of different services with better than human level perception and we’ll see the emergence of the next major computing platform in virtual and augmented reality,” said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg during his opening keynote at F8. “These are all elements of our 10 year roadmap to connect the world and each of these elements is in service of our mission. It’s about bringing people together, that’s what we do here.”

The company has been making efforts in recent months to bolster its position in the artificial intelligence space. Recently, the company announced a string of new hires for its artificial intelligence research team, including a number of acquisitions from Microsoft’s R&D team, another company who have been making strides to perfect AI. The new staff members bring experience to the team in the fields of causal inference in learning systems, computer vision, cost-sensitive learning, speech recognition and syntactic parsing with approximate inference.

Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, Director of Applied Machine Learning at Facebook

Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, Director of Applied Machine Learning at Facebook

On the company blog, Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, Director of Applied Machine Learning at Facebook outlined a number of use cases which are a reality today. “We built an AI backbone that powers much of the Facebook experience and is used actively by more than 25 percent of all engineers across the company. Powered by a massive 40 PFLOPS GPU cluster that teams are using to train really large models with billions of parameters on huge data sets of trillions of examples, teams across the company ae running 50x more AI experiments per day than a year ago, which means that research is going into production faster than ever.”

The company has already applied an AI-based automatic translation system, claiming that an off-the-shelf translation program would not be adequate as they trained on a general corpus like appliance manuals. As language on Facebook is far more colloquial, the systems would not be effective. The company claims that its AI capabilities have the ability to learn and recognize new expressions, regional differences and the various uses of emojis.

In terms of pictures, Facebook claim its AI can understand the content of the image at a pixel level to make classification and searching of image simpler. “This is called image segmentation, and it allows us to recognize individual objects in the image as well as their relation,” said Candela. “Using image segmentation we will be able to build more immersive experiences for the visually impaired with “talking images” you can read with your fingertips, as well as more powerful ways to search images. In one case here, we have the ability to search for ‘a photo of us five on skis on the snow, with a lake in the background and trees on both sides’.

“AI is central to today’s Facebook experience, and, with our research pushing the state of the art, we’re just getting started on this journey. I’m excited to see where it takes us next.”

AI battle ground intensifies with AWS rumoured to be making moves

amazon awsAmazon has apparently acquired deep learning start-up Orbeus in what would appear to be the company’s latest move on the artificial intelligence market, according to reports at Bloomberg. Sources close to Bloomberg have said the acquisition took place in the latter stages of 2015, though the deal has not been announced by Amazon as of yet.

Over recent months, artificial intelligence would appear to be the latest battle grounds for the cloud industry as numerous tech giants bolster their capabilities in the space. While the move has not been confirmed by either Orbeus or Amazon, the play builds on AWS’ previous acquisitions in the segment including high-performance computing company Nice and video processing company Elemental Technologies.

The Orbeus site is relatively bare for the moment, simply displaying the message “ReKognition API is no longer taking new customers. Thank you very much for your interest and support. But we’re up to new/exciting things and to stay tuned.” The Orbeus technology utilizes deep learning techniques to provide scalable image and face recognition solutions for businesses and consumers. The company has won numerous awards and also received healthy media attention for its application PhotoTime, which brings the advances of deep learning to the consumer market.

While the move has not been confirmed by any parties to date it does appear to demonstrate the importance of AI for the tech giants, most of whom are making notable efforts to improve product offerings in the face of increasingly demanding customers. AWS continues to remain as the leader in the public cloud space, though recent moves from Microsoft and Google appear to be closing the gap. Industry insiders have told BCN that AWS’ industry leading position may be coming under threat as competitors would appear to be making more significant moves to improve their own platforms.

The new expertise could counter moves made by Google and Microsoft in recent months, as the companies pursue AI competencies for improved customer experience and decision making capabilities. Google’s recent Go PR stunt demonstrated the efforts which the team have made in deep learning, whereas Microsoft announced a number of Microsoft additions to its Cognitive Services offering, formerly known as Project Oxford, at Build 2016.

Salesforces acquires AI start up

Robotic hand, accessing on laptop, the virtual world of information. Concept of artificial intelligence and replacement of humans by machines.Salesforce is set to acquire deep learning start up MetaMind in an effort to bolster it artificial intelligence capabilities.

While terms of the deal have not been released, it would appear to be an “acqhire” based agreement, as Salesforce will integrate MetaMind’s technology into its current services. Long-term intentions have not been announced, though MetaMind’s capabilities will be used to automate and personalize customer support in the first instance.

“With MetaMind and Salesforce coming together, we’ll be able to offer customers real AI solutions with breakthrough capabilities that further automate and personalize customer support, marketing automation, and many other business processes,” said MetaMind Founder Richard Socher. “We’ll extend Salesforce’s data science capabilities by embedding deep learning within the Salesforce platform.”

MetaMind’s expertise is based on Socher’s PhD where he explored deep learning artificial intelligence. The company teaches machines to recognize images and understand natural language, operating in a similar way to the networks of neurons in the human brain. While these capabilities have been limited to internet giants such as Facebook, Google and Baidu, Socher founded MetaMind under the ethos to “build deep learning technologies anyone can use, not just the internet giants”. The company was initially funded by Saleforce CEO Marc Benioff and venture capital fund Khosla Ventures.

The acquisition builds on growing AI trends within the industry on the whole, as industry giants are currently competing for leading spot in the emerging segment. With Microsoft, Google, IBM and Facebook, all making strides in recent weeks, it should not be seen as a surprise that one of the world’s largest CRM brands is also entering the fray.

“Over the past year and a half, we’ve been on a mission to empower business users with state of the art deep learning technology to simplify, improve and automate decision making,” said Socher. “And now, we’ll be able to continue our journey at Salesforce on a much larger scale, with the resources and ecosystem of one of the world’s most innovative and influential enterprise software companies.”

For unpaid web users, MetaMind’s products will be discontinued on May 4, whereas for paid users, products will be discontinued on June 4. Although it has not been made 100% clear what the long-term strategy of the acquisition will be Socher highlighted that the MetaMind team’s research will continue and it is still receiving CV’s for new positions.

Outside of the AI space, Salesforce has also signed an agreement with NEC to establish its second data centre in Japan to support its growing customer base over the Asia-Pacific region. Japan’s public cloud service market grew to 2.6 billion yen in 2015 and is forecasted to reach 6.3 billion yen by 2020.

“Salesforce’s plans to open a second data centre in the Kansai area reflects our commitment to Japan and the Asia-Pacific region,” said Shinichi Koide, CEO at Salesforce Japan. “Salesforce continues to increase its strategic investments in the market, enabling local companies to leverage the latest cloud, mobile, social, data science and IoT innovations to create connected experiences that matter to their customers.”

While Salesforce is still considered in the industry as the market leader, Oracle and Larry Ellison have actively targeted Salesforce market share, as the company still appears to measure itself against Salesforce’s success. As a company which has built its reputation on innovation it should not come as a surprise that Salesforce is pursuing technologies such as artificial intelligence to bolster its product offering and enforce its position as the industry leader.

Korea to mount challenge in AI industry

AI-Artificial-Intelligence-Machine-Learning-Cognitive-ComputingKorea has announced plans to invest roughly 100 billion won (approximately $87.2 million) to foster the development of supercomputers in the country, according to the Korea Times.

Following the 5-game Go match between Google’s AlphaGo programme and Go World Champion Lee Se-dol, there has been a rise in interest in AI within the country. The attention has seemingly prompted the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning to invest 10 billion won annually for the next 10 years to boost the growth of artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet-of-Things technologies and other emerging industries through supercomputers.

The Go match would appear to have raised the profile in a country which is already in the process of bolstering its cloud computing credentials. At a cloud conference, the ministry also announced plans to increase the adoption of cloud computing from 6.4% to 13% over the next 12 months, as well as targeting international growth for Korean cloud computing companies.

The ministry has outlined a plan to develop a supercomputer with a data-processing speed of 1 petaflop (PF) in five years, eventually reaching 30 PF by 2025. The 1 petaflop supercomputer could be utilized in such use cases as predicting maritime and landslide-related disasters. It is believed that the supercomputer project has been granted state-level importance as more than 95% of Korea’s market for high-performance computers is controlled by overseas firms. The country’s market for high-performance computing is estimated at 260 billion won for 2015, accounting for 2.5% of the global total.

Google’s publicity stunt is only one of a number is recent months to demonstrate the potential and also challenges of AI. While Google’s stunt could be deemed a success, Microsoft’s twitter inspired AI bot Tay was less so. Tay highlighted to the industry that while there has been progress in the development and deployment of AI, there are still some challenges which persist. It would appear programming morals, values as well as the sense of right and wrong is one of the challenges which remain within AI.

The Korean government would appear to be targeting cloud computing and other emerging technology markets for future growth. The ministry has highlighted that as little as 6.4% of Korean companies currently utilize cloud computing technologies, representing a huge area of growth for domestic cloud computing organizations, as well as any international players who are active in south east Asia.

Microsoft pushes forward with AI despite Tay set-back

Microsoft To Layoff 18,000Microsoft has announced a number of updates for its advanced analytics and machine learning offerings as part of its ‘Conversation-as-a-Platform’ push.

Despite the company facing criticism after its twitter-inspired PR stunt Tay backfired last week, the company has pushed forward within the artificial intelligence space, updating its Cortana Intelligence Suite and releasing its Skype Bot Platform.

“As an industry, we are on the cusp of a new frontier that pairs the power of natural human language with advanced machine intelligence,” said Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft, at the Build 2016 event. “At Microsoft, we call this Conversation-as-a-Platform, and it builds on and extends the power of the Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Windows platforms to empower developers everywhere.”

The Cortana Intelligence Suite, formerly known as Cortana Analytics Suite, is built on the company’s on-going research into big data, machine learning, perception, analytics and intelligent bots. The offering allows developers to build apps and bots which interact with customers in a personalized way, but also react to real-world developments in real-time.

Microsoft also announced two new additions to the suite, Microsoft Cognitive Services, formerly known as Project Oxford and the Microsoft Bot Framework, both of which are still in preview.

The first, Microsoft Cognitive Services, has 22 APIs available for developers including emotion detection, speech analysis and Custom Recognition Intelligent Service. The face application programming interface made headlines last year, as the results of an app which estimated user ages was highly varied.

At the time, the team highlighted “the age and gender-recognition features are labelled as experimental features” and also said that despite the mistakes the app made, the fact that it trended on twitter meant that the volumes of data collected would aid the company in refining the technology over time.

The second, Microsoft Bot Framework, can be used in any programming language, enabling developers to build intelligent bots which can converse with customers in a variety of platforms including text/SMS, Office 365, and the web. The bots can also connect to social channels such as Twitter and Slack. The company claims that the bots can be utilized in a number of different complex scenarios though only simple ones, such as ordering a pizza or booking a hotel room, have been demoed so far.

The company also announced the launch of its Skype Bot Platform, enables developers to build bots which can interact with customers through Skype’s multiple forms of communication, including text, voice, video and 3-D interactive characters. The preview bots are very simple and limited for the moment, however once the bots are combined with the Cortana Intelligence Suite there could be potential for the bots to appear more human.

While it is early days for the Microsoft AI platforms, the team are riding the waves of both positive and negative headlines, seemingly leading the industry in the AI space. The company’s competitors are also pushing hard in the AI world, though the weight behind the announcements this week could imply that Microsoft are investing in a more serious manner than others in the industry.

IBM launches brain-inspired supercomputer with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

artificial intelligence, communication and futuristicIBM and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have launched a new project to build a brain-inspired supercomputing platform for deep learning inference.

The project will be built on IBM’s TrueNorth chip, which the company claims will process the equivalent of 16 million neurons and 4 billion synapses and consume the energy equivalent of a tablet computer. The neural network design of IBM’s Neuromorphic System aims to be able to infer complex cognitive tasks such as pattern recognition and integrated sensory processing in a much more economical manner than current chips.

“The delivery of this advanced computing platform represents a major milestone as we enter the next era of cognitive computing,” said Dharmendra Modha, Chief Scientist for Brain-inspired Computing at IBM Research.   “We value our relationships with the national labs. In fact, prior to design and fabrication, we simulated the IBM TrueNorth processor using LLNL’s Sequoia supercomputer. This collaboration will push the boundaries of brain-inspired computing to enable future systems that deliver unprecedented capability and throughput, while helping to minimize the capital, operating and programming costs – keeping our nation at the leading edge of science and technology.”

The technology itself will be utilized in a number of different manners within the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), including the organizations Stockpile Stewardship Program, a program of reliability testing and maintenance of its nuclear weapons without the use of nuclear testing.

“Neuromorphic computing opens very exciting new possibilities and is consistent with what we see as the future of the high performance computing and simulation at the heart of our national security missions,” said Jim Brase, Livermore National Laboratory’s Deputy Associate Director for Data Science. “The potential capabilities neuromorphic computing represents and the machine intelligence that these will enable will change how we do science.”

While Artificial Intelligence has been one of the more prominent trends in the cloud computing world, the success of the technology and PR stunts launched has been varied.

AlphaGo is an example of the success of AI, as Google Deepmind’s AI program beat world Go champion Lee Se-dol in a five match series. As traditional machine learning techniques could not be applied in this instance, the team combined an advanced tree search with deep neural network allowing the program to readjust its behaviour through reinforcement learning. The win came as a surprise to commentators, as the game Go relies on intuition and feel.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Microsoft has had to release an apology after its twitter inspired AI stunt backfired. The program tweeted controversial comments as it was unable to grasp the politically incorrect nature of the messages it received from users, as reported by the Independent.