How AI will change our lives, and the rising focus on privacy

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A recap of the key developer conferences

It´s that time of the year again for the big developer conferences. Over the past few weeks Google, Microsoft and Facebook have all provided a preview as to what we can expect from them this year. As usual, they demonstrated plenty of innovative plans for the future. With Apple’s much anticipated WWDC still another 3 weeks away, here are our key takeaways from the conferences we’ve seen this far.

AI assistants

AI was a hot topic in all three developer conferences, but none put on a bigger show than Google. Google CEO Sundar Pichai stole the show at I/O by demonstrating the Google Assistant, featuring Duplex technology, and letting it make a phone call all by itself to schedule a haircut at a local salon, without any human direction. Despite the fact that it had a high “wow” factor, Google quickly faced a backlash about the ethics of what it had demonstrated. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, spoke about the ethics surrounding AI as well; saying that coders need to concentrate on building products that use “good AI” in which the “choices we make can be good choices for the future”.

How AI will change our lives, and the rising focus on privacy

Other updates to Google Assistant include six new voices, support for multiple commands in a single sentence, and you will be able to converse with the assistant without having to say “OK Google” every time. Microsoft meanwhile demonstrated their meeting room of the future – where their Cortana assistant greets people by their name as they sit down at a meeting, transcribes what they say, and highlight action items. Although it didn´t receive the same media coverage as that of Google´s demonstration, by pairing this functionality with Microsoft 365, the immediate business applications of the technology are clear.

The rivalry of AI computer chips

Google also unveiled the latest version of its custom AI computer chips (TPUs); these chips are so powerful according to Pichai that Google has had to switch to liquid cooling technology in its data centres. Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella however, had already discussed its Specialized Chips (FPGAs), built by Intel, a week earlier at Microsoft’s annual Build conference and argued they were faster at some tasks compared to Google’s TPUs. By moving their Project Brainwave AI technology into its Azure cloud-computing service, Microsoft is hoping to show leadership in AI services and readying themselves for a rapidly growing market in the foreseeable future. From both Google and Microsoft’s aspirations in this field it is clear how important these developments are for the machine learning applications that already underpin many of their own services, and are key to their digital dominance in the future.

While image processing is one of the most well-established uses of AI available at the moment – Microsoft is aiming to partner with other organisations to let specialist processors (FPGAs) underpin other AI tasks as well. The recently announced partnerships with DJI and Qualcomm are likely to only be the start of this.

Social media & networking updates

When it comes to ethics and privacy issues, Mark Zuckerberg obviously could not take the stage at F8 without addressing them. Zuckerberg introduced a new“clear history”tool in response to the outcry over its privacy practices – however even this was criticized by privacy experts, as your information will still remain on Facebook´s servers. So it remains to be seen how much Facebook´s actions will really change, and whether we will see a real commitment to user privacy. Another privacy enhancing feature announced by Zuckerberg are the updates to Facebook’s login rules which includes restricted accessibility to certain data.

Further announcements made by Facebook include a video tool that lets multiple users watch the same video simultaneously, called Watch Party, and making Groups more central to the Facebook experience. Of course the Facebook dating service was mentioned and is certain to attract plenty of attention in the months leading up to its launch. Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp are all to receive some updates, and Facebook Analytics is set to offer businesses anonymously aggregated analytics that give insight into omnichannel data and reporting. Furthermore, Facebook’s Oculus Go VR headset started shipping on the first day of F8.

All eyes on Apple now

All in all expectations for developments this year have been set high by Google and Microsoft. Whilst these companies are working on similar technologies, it is clear how they are trying to differentiate themselves. Facebook is trying to address the privacy issues that have finally come to light, and hopes that new features will keep them ahead of the pack. Now all eyes are on Apple to see what they will announce at WWDC in June.

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