Valdosta Daily Times


May 2, 2014

Get smart: Tech companies pour resources into artificial intelligence


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“In the last 18 months, every venture capital firm I know has made at least one investment” in artificial intelligence, robotics or related sectors, said Raj Singh, CEO of Tempo AI, which makes a “smart calendar” mobile app that acts like a personal assistant. Tempo uses technology from SRI, the Menlo Park, Calif., think tank that developed key elements of Apple’s Siri and has spun off several artificial intelligence startups.

Competition among digital personal assistants is especially heated: While each works differently, Tempo is vying with Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s new Cortana. Through a series of upgrades, each has tried to outdo the others in providing reminders and anticipating questions by analyzing relevant data from users’ calendars, contact lists and email.

The ultimate goal is something closer to “Samantha,” the personable operating system voiced by actress Scarlett Johansson in the film “Her,” though it undoubtedly will be more businesslike.

Right now, even Siri fans have voiced frustration with its limitations, including balky silences and nonresponsive answers. But there are signs Apple is working feverishly to improve it.

“Apple is hiring some of the most intelligent guys in this field,” said Abdel-Rahman Mohamed, a University of Toronto researcher who has used a form of artificial intelligence known as “deep learning” to improve speech recognition by computers. Based on Apple’s recent hiring, Mohamed predicted Siri will improve dramatically.

Facebook, meanwhile, wants to better understand its users’ posts and preferences so it can show them more relevant messages, LeCun said. It’s working on improved facial recognition algorithms for photo-tagging. Zuckerberg has also hinted he wants to compete with Google in providing answers to users’ questions, drawing on recommendations and observations by the social network’s 1.2 billion members.

“The goal here is to use new approaches in A.I. to help make sense of all the content that people share, so we can generate new insights about the world to answer people’s questions,” Zuckerberg told analysts recently. “This has the potential to be really powerful.”

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