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Artificial Intelligence Race among tech gaints like Google and Baidu from facial recognition into AR and autonomous driving

As the world itself becomes more complex, AI will become the defining technology of the twenty-first century, just as the microprocessor was in the twentieth century, wrote Albert Einstein. In an article for the World Economic Forum, Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, explains that the convergence of big data, machine learning and increased computing power will soon make artificial intelligence “ubiquitous”.

AI is shaping up to be one of hottest areas of innovation. Apple, Google, and Microsoft have already bet big on artificial intelligence with mobile personal assistants (Siri, Google Voice, and Cortana respectively). Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Samsung are all investing heavily in this area — building giant teams of data scientists internally and through acquisitions.

Corporate giants like Google, IBM, Yahoo, Intel, Apple, and Salesforce are competing in the race to acquire private AI companies, with Ford, Samsung, GE, and Uber emerging as new entrants. Over 250 private companies using AI algorithms across different verticals have been acquired since 2012, with 37 acquisitions taking place in Q1’17 alone.


Google made headlines when its AlphaGo AI machine beat a South Korean grandmaster at the chess-like game of Go. Google Assistant software is being built into new Pixel handsets — aiming to outdo Apple’s Siri — enabling users to organize and use information on the devices and in the cloud — to check emails, stay up to date on calendar appointments, news or ask for traffic and weather data. Google invests in AI for various purposes; Gmail exemplifies how machine learning can be integerated with popular app, that billions of people use every day. Google’s self-driving car project, now a separate company called Waymo.

Google unveiled a number of new AI-driven products, including Google Home, a voice-activated product that allows users to manage appliances and entertainment systems with voice commands, and which draws on the speech recognition technology in its announced “Google Assistant” (the product is scheduled to be released later this year).

The Google Translate app, on iOS or Android, is the most powerful way to translate between 90 languages. You can speak or type in a phrase and get a translation on your desktop computer or mobile. ‘People use Google Translate a lot – we translate over 100 billion words a day,’ Aaron Babst, community program manager at Google Translate wrote in a blog post.

“Research at Google is at the forefront of innovation in Machine Intelligence, with active research exploring virtually all aspects of machine learning, including deep learning and more classical algorithms. Exploring theory as well as application, much of our work on language, speech, translation, visual processing, ranking and prediction relies on Machine Intelligence,” says Google. In all of those tasks and many others, we gather large volumes of direct or indirect evidence of relationships of interest, applying learning algorithms to understand and generalize.

Earlier, it had acquired Boston Dynamics, which famous for its human like robots. Two of their bipedal robots named Atlas and Petman have a significant degree of freedom, which can only be matched by human beings. Boston Dynamics is also a leading provider of human simulation software. Its primary customers are the US Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

Our goal is to improve robotics via machine learning, and improve machine learning via robotics. We foster close collaborations between machine learning researchers and roboticists to enable learning at scale on real and simulated robotic systems.

Having a machine learning agent interact with its environment requires true unsupervised learning, skill acquisition, active learning, exploration and reinforcement, all ingredients of human learning that are still not well understood or exploited through the supervised approaches that dominate deep learning today.

We’re teaching robots to predict what happens when they move objects around, in order to learn about the world around them and make better, safer decisions without supervision, and we are sharing our training data publicly to help advance the state of the art in this field. We’re also bringing advances in deep learning to the exciting and demanding world of self-driving cars to improve their safety and reliability.



MIT Technology Review listed Baidu as No. 2 on its list of the 50 smartest companies in 2016, after Amazon.com. The editors cited the Chinese company’s AI work, particularly in speech recognition, where it’s teaching its system to process spoken words sometimes more accurately than people can.

Baidu said that its speech-recognition software performed three times faster than humans for English language, with a lower error rate, in a joint experiment the company did with Stanford University pitting the software against 32 people typing text on smartphones.

Beyond optimizing its search engine and enhancing its ability to recognize voice, Baidu also is applying AI to automobiles, aiming to mass-produce a driverless car in five years

China’s biggest search engine — introduced an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot,  Melody the medical assistant to connect with patients, field medical questions and suggest diagnoses to doctors. The bot is designed to be the first port of call for a person feeling sick at home. A patient poses a health query to Melody, which responds in real time with further questions, and compares responses with Baidu’s database of medical information. All that data gets crunched, and Melody then poses a possible diagnosis to a doctor who can then recommend next steps.

Baidu has developed advanced deep learning and natural language processing technologies to power Melody’s artificially intelligent “brain.”

Baidu’s Strategy to compete with Google

China’s Iflytek, is an artificial intelligence company that has focused on speech recognition and understanding natural language. The company has won international competitions both in speech synthesis and in translation between Chinese- and English-language texts. The company, which Chinese technologists said has a close relationship with the government for development of surveillance technology, said it is working with the Ministry of Science and Technology on a “Humanoid Answering Robot.”

In 2016, Baidu’s CEO Robin Li publicly stated that the company is actively integrating artificial intelligence technologies into all of Baidu’s major businesses, including the search engine, as well as new businesses such as autonomous driving. In August, Baidu, Stanford, and the University of Washington released an academic study demonstrating that voice input is more accurate and three times faster than human typing on smartphones. Its Silicon Valley lab is dedicated to finding new uses for AI, and the speech recognition engine it created has been integrated into the company’s mobile search tool, used by hundreds of millions of people in China.

Baidu, has developed a voice system that can recognize English and Mandarin speech better than people, in some cases.The new system, called Deep Speech 2, is especially significant in how it relies entirely on machine learning for translation.The Baidu app for smartphones lets users search by voice, and also includes a voice-controlled personal assistant called Duer (see “Baidu’s Duer Joins the Personal Assistant Party”).

When Deep Speech 2 was first released in December 2015, Andrew Ng, the chief scientist at Baidu, described Deep Speech 2’s test run as surpassing Google Speech API, wit.ai, Microsoft’s Bing Speech, and Apple’s Dictation by more than 10 percent in word error rate.

In healthcare, the Baidu Doctor project is focused around applying machine and deep learning to building a chat program that can reliably diagnose illness just like a human doctor, simply from the patient’s voice input. The company has stated that it’s long term goal is to create a “medical robot” – a concept familiar to science fiction fans which is now, thanks to advances in machine learning, tantalisingly close to becoming a reality.

Baidu plans to use its new Beijing lab AR Lab, as well as technology from its AI research – image recognition, object detection, and more – to build smartphone-based AR applications. “Our cell phone-based approach has enabled us to ship augmented reality experiences to a significant number of users in a very short amount of time,” says Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu, in a press release. “There is an appetite for this technology; we are seeing rapid adoption by our partners in a range of industries.”

“Artificial intelligence technologies have gained a more and more solid presence in recent years, including programs in voice recognition, image recognition, multi-language translation, unpiloted vehicles and airplanes, robots and more. This is one of the peaks of world technology, and China is not lagging behind in this area, so I think we have an opportunity to do something big. ”

“Whoever wins artificial intelligence will win the internet in China and around the world. Baidu has the best shot to make it work,” Ng said in a Bloomberg report last October.


Google leader in Global search market, Baidu in China

Google continues to dominate the global search market with 54.7 percent of search ad revenues worldwide in 2014. Google effectively controls 90 percent of searches globally compared to the Baidu’s 1 percent market share worldwide. Globally 1.17 billion People use Google for search queries in a given month; 293 million people use Baidu; 292 million use Yahoo Search & 267 million use Bing. Google also dominates mobile market,

Like Google, Baidu’s core service is also search – Baidu is said to account for 75% of search traffic in its homeland. Here, it has rolled out machine learning algorithms for voice and image recognition, as well as natural language processing, to help it return smarter, more useful and more personalized results

One key difference between Google and Baidu is the former’s presence in mobile software. Google’s establishment of the Android operating system has rapidly grown to the most widely used smartphone operating system in the world. Google controls 91.14% market in Mobile and Tablet search market while Bing has only 2.38%.

Driverless Cars

The Google Self-Driving Car project, involves developing technology for autonomous cars. In late May 2014, Google revealed a new prototype of its driverless car, which had no steering wheel, gas pedal, or brakes, being 100% autonomous. Google has updated its prototype self-driving vehicle to make it road worthy, adding headlights and manual steering and braking to comply with road rules, Google’s cars are now on the streets of California (and Texas).

Baidu has opened up its driverless car technology for auto makers to use as it aims to be the default platform for autonomous driving in a bid to challenge the likes of Google and Tesla. The Chinese internet giant said that the new project named Apollo, will provide the tools carmakers would need to make autonomous vehicles. There would be reference designs and a complete software solution that includes cloud data services. Essentially, Baidu is trying to become to cars what Google’s Android has become to smartphones – an operating system that will power a number of driverless vehicles.

The technology giant has been investing heavily in this area since 2015 and that same year tested fully autonomous cars on highways and roads in Beijing. But the company has also expanded to the U.S. where it received a driverless car test permit for California last year. The company has said that it is planning to begin mass production of driverless cars by 2021.  “The A.I. technologies, including machine vision, sensor fusion, planning and control, on our car are completely home-brewed,” Mr. Wu said. “We wrote every line by ourselves.”

“An open, innovative industry ecosystem initiated by Baidu will accelerate the development of autonomous driving in the US and other developed automotive markets,” Qi Lu, chief operating officer at Baidu, said in a press release.

In China, ‘super brain’ AI robot takes on humans in reality TV show

A robot is invading a popular reality TV show in China that tests people’s brainpower. The smart, AI-powered bot, Xiaodu, will take on human competitors in complex trials involving face and voice recognition. The AI robot built by search engine giant Baidu is one of the contestants, facing off against four people and other clever computer programs.

Baidu is confident its AI bot has the savvy to do well in its tough TV test. The Beijing-based company, worth US$63 billion, has a lab in Silicon Valley devoted to artificial intelligence, natural language processing, intelligent interaction, as well as speech, image, and facial recognition.


China’s SenseTime expands digital frontier from facial recognition into AR and autonomous driving

SenseTime, the world’s most valuable artificial intelligence (AI) start-up that counts Alibaba and Qualcomm among its investors, is branching out into autonomous driving and augmented reality (AR). Founded at the Hong Kong Science Park in 2014, the start-up raised US$620 million in May bolstering its position as the world’s most valuable AI start-up, with a valuation of US$4.5 billion.

 “Our leading algorithms for facial recognition have already proven a big success,” said Xu, “and now comes [new technologies for] autonomous driving, which enable machines to recognise images both inside and outside cars, and an augmented reality engine, integrating know-how in reading facial expressions and body movement.”

While virtual reality creates an immersive, computer-generated environment that is artificial, augmented reality integrates digital information into the user’s existing environment in real time.

SenseTime is considered among the “lucky few” amid “China’s explosion in AI usage”, said Xu, adding that AI can help the country to address a range of problems and increase productivity. China’s innovation of business models is much faster compared with other countries,” he said, “with technology breakthrough and AI listed as a national level strategy, we can feel the release of explosive growth in market demand.”


In 2014, Amazon launched its Echo home assistant. The gadget is a voice-activated speaker that runs Amazon’s Alexa artificial intelligence software. Users can use Alexa to order goods from the online retail giant as well as ask for news or information updates. Echo also works as a connected-home hub able to control light bulbs, compatible appliances and other devices. Since unveiling Echo, Amazon integrated Alexa into its Fire TV devices and launched a smaller version called Dot.

Amazon has launched of its new Amazon AI platform that brings many of the machine learning smarts Amazon has developed in-house over the years to devs outside the company. Amazon AI services bring natural language understanding (NLU), automatic speech recognition (ASR), visual search and image recognition, text-to-speech (TTS), and machine learning (ML) technologies within reach of every developer. Amazon Lex make it easy to build sophisticated text and voice chatbots, powered by Alexa. Amazon Rekognition provides deep learning-based image recognition. Amazon Polly turns text into lifelike speech, and Amazon Machine Learning allows you to quickly build smart ML applications.



AI is “the thing that is going to be in the internet, it’s going to be in every device”, Satya Nadella took over as chief executive said. “Every product we design, and how every user is going to interact with the environment, is going to be ‘intelligence first’.”

Microsoft’s personal assistant called Cortana was unveiled in 2014. It comes pre-installed on its Xbox console and Windows devices, as well as an application on Android and Apple iOS devices. Cortana interacts with conversationally spoken commands and requests and is able to respond in a manner akin to a real-life assistant.



The giant social network Facebook is one of the companies that have heavily investing in artificial intelligence. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently published a detailed year-end update on his personal challenge to build simple AI to run his home. Ultimately, according to LeCun, Facebook has one goal with respect to AI, and that is to understand intelligence and build intelligent machines. “That’s not merely a technology challenge, it’s a scientific question,” he wrote. “What is intelligence and how can we reproduce it in machines?

Facebook’s Messenger mobile application enables AI bots. It is also speculated that the company is working on a personal assistant codenamed “M.” Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of the social network, has stated that he plans to create a real-life version of “Jarvis,” the fictional assistant in the “Iron Man” Marvel Comics series.



Apple introduced its Siri digital assistant for the iPhone in 2011, being the first to offer an AI personal assistant. Since Siri was launched, the company has been continuously working to improve it over the years. Recently, the AI personal assistant Siri was upgraded to interact with non-Apple applications. Apple also introduced a Home application that is working on a standalone speaker similar to Google Home and Amazon Echo and can connect with smart appliances.



Technology giant company IBM is involved in AI research since nearly 20 years ago. Its “Deep Blue” software was able to win against world chess champion Garry Kasparov. More recently IBM’s “Watson” artificial intelligence supercomputer won against human players in a Jeopardy television game show. IBM’s Watson has already real-life applications, helping to make business systems and services smarter



The South Korean high-tech company moved to support its AI efforts by acquiring the U.S. startup Viv Labs. According to Samsung, the purchase announced this month is part of its effort to develop AIbased voice assistance services for its customers. Samsung aims to provide these AI services across all its devices and products, from washing machines to televisions and smartphones.

BK Yoon, president and chief executive of consumer electronics at the Korean group, said Samsung’s ultimate goal is to be able to “read the minds” of its customers, with products that anticipate their needs.



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