Google, Facebook and Amazon race to invest into robotics & AI.
"The amount of money that Google and other commercial companies will pour into robotics and artificial intelligence could at last take it truly into the commercial world where we actually do have smart robots roaming our streets," says Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield.
Turning the classic industrial investment model on its head, consumer technology groups are using their cash mountains to superfund areas of research that were until now the preserve of governments, defence companies and academics. Over the past year, Google has bought seven robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics, whose previous work building humanoid machines was largely paid for by the US military. It has bought firms that specialise in natural language processing, gesture recognition, and more recently in machine learning, highlighted by the acquisition of British startup Deepmind – bought in January for $400m (£238m).
"Silicon Valley's involvement is creating right now an enormous acceleration," says Per Roman, a founding partner at technology investment bank GPBullhound. "It is turning into a real talent magnet. It is often small teams that come up with breakthrough inventions and you are much more willing to take the risk if there is a chance you could get bought rather than ending up in a dark room in some military agency."
And it is not just AI that is persuading Google to open its chequebook. Like Facebook, it is also investing in beaming the internet from the sky. Google has acquired drone maker Titan Aerospace, while Facebook now owns Somerset based Ascenta. Facebook has also splashed out $2bn on Oculus, a maker of virtual reality headsets. Amazon, meanwhile, has held up the prospect that one day its goods could be delivered by air to our doorstep before we have even realised we need to order them.
Last year's $3.2bn purchase of Nest, a designer of internet connected smoke alarms and thermostats, suggest Google's ambitions are domestic. "It looks to me like they want to take the internet out of the desktop and put it into our everyday lives," says Sharkey. "Their acquisition of Nest was very telling. Add to that robotics and AI companies and you have the internet walking around in the world alongside us."
For those struggling to understand why Google or Amazon should want to invest in self driving cars, internet drones and robotics, the answer is data. Masses of it. The parking meter in your street, the collar on your cat, the thermostat in your home will emit signals that can be picked up from anywhere, and Google will be listening.
Full story in The Guardian.