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Eric Schmidt says artificial intelligence is 'starting to see real progress'

Eric Schmidt says artificial intelligence is 'starting to see real progress'


The Google chairman also took a shot at Apple Music

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Eric Schmidt is all in on artificial intelligence. In an op-ed for the BBC, the highly opinionated Google — and soon to be Alphabet — chairman wrote that we're closer than ever before to true artificial intelligence, and that continued research into its development will have positive side effects that will benefit the public.

In his piece, Schmidt notes that AI-related research hit an inflection point a few years ago, after a team led by Geoff Hinton, a leader in artificial neural networks, was able to dramatically improve on speech recognition, and helped improve Google's efforts by 25 percent, a jump that would've taken years of research. Schmidt also noted that consumer interest in technologies that could actively solve real-world issues gave way to increased research into AI:

And it's been accelerated by tackling real-world problems: how do you build a system that recognizes speech in 58 languages? How do you find someone's first photo of their golden retriever when it's never been labelled? (These aren't just rhetorical questions; the Google app and Google Photos do this, and many other companies are working on similar real-world applications of machine learning).

In other words, the same consumer needs that gave rise to the web and the cloud computing that powers it - people wanting to get any question in the world answered or communicate effortlessly across languages - were what refreshed and refocused the basic research in AI.

Schmidt also took a veiled shot at Apple Music, as he discussed the effect of artificial intelligence research on modern music services. Schmidt said that companies should be using algorithms to determine what users want to listen to next, instead of employing a collection of tastemakers to curate music — precisely what Apple Music is doing — calling that approach "elitist":

To give just one example: a decade ago, to launch a digital music service, you probably would have enlisted a handful of elite tastemakers to pick the hottest new music.

Today, you're much better off building a smart system that can learn from the real world - what actual listeners are most likely to like next - and help you predict who and where the next Adele might be.

As a bonus, it's a much less elitist taste-making process - much more democratic - allowing everyone to discover the next big star through our own collective tastes and not through the individual preferences of a select few.

Taking shots at Apple is nothing new for the former Apple director — and the chair of an algorithm-driven company — and it likely won't be the last time it happens. But despite its many faults, Schmidt chose to attack one of the few things Apple Music has gotten right — curation. While there are valid arguments for both algorithm and human-driven curation in music services, with the success of both Spotify (algorithmic) and the early numbers on Apple Music, it looks like both avenues are still valid options for music services.

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