July 7, 2016
When some of the biggest names in technology speak, the rest of the industry sits up and pays attention. That’s exactly what happened earlier this year when Elon Musk of Tesla fame and Sam Altman of Y Combinator announced a new business called OpenAI. The name of the company says it all: an organization dedicated to researching artificial intelligence and sharing the results of that research with the rest of the world. Indeed, OpenAI isn’t intended to act like a traditional business at all; it is strictly a non-profit company, one which won’t produce the types of products and services typically associated with tech companies. The focus is to finally reach the potential of artificial intelligence and unleash it upon everyone who is interested. There are no earnings or revenue to worry about — simply research, which is why it has attracted so many leading AI experts to its cause.
With Elon Musk heading OpenAI, it’s an exciting time to think about all the possible applications that could come from this groundbreaking research. Using such techniques like reinforcement learning, there’s little doubt that major advances will be made. In fact, the true implications of this new endeavor, while still speculative, open up a wide range of possibilities, from new big data opportunities to autonomous services.
What OpenAI’s announcement can tell us is what probably should have been clear before: artificial intelligence represents the next great technological leap we’ll be making. Much focus has been placed on big data, machine learning, and deep learning in just the past couple of years for good reason. They are significant advances made that revolve around helping machines learn without having explicit programming for tasks. Think of them as necessary steps along the path to true artificial intelligence. The preliminaries have been completed, and now it’s time to ramp up research towards the true goal of AI. The fact that Elon Musk and others are investing so much in money and resources shows the kind of value they are placing in AI, making it clear that the next age of innovations will likely come from this area.
The main hook of the OpenAI initiative, mainly that of sharing all research conducted with everyone else, may also represent a growing trend in the technology community. This is essentially an open source project, and open source has increased in popularity in the past few years. There seems to be a noticeable change in attitude among developers, data scientists, programmers, and other experts in advanced computing and artificial intelligence. Whereas before most experts would want to keep their breakthroughs to themselves, firmly within the organizations they work for, that type of mindset has transformed into a more open one that looks to exchange the findings they discover. As the thinking goes, having more minds on one project is better than having fewer. In this way, all the researchers can have the latest tools and platforms needed to conduct their work more effectively.
This push for greater AI research is also going to increase the demand in AI experts. The OpenAI announcement was actually delayed a bit since many of the leading researchers being brought on board were given big money counter offers at the last minute to stay with their previous organizations. It’s clear that tech companies see the value of AI and want only the best and brightest to be at their businesses. There’s a lot of money being put on the table. Artificial intelligence is a barely explored frontier that will only continue to grow, so those people who have experience and expertise in the field will be in demand to the extent of which we have never seen before.
OpenAI won’t be the only major push for more artificial intelligence research. We can expect similar efforts from the likes of Google, Microsoft, and even Facebook. Even so, to have a new company whose sole aim is to research AI and share it with everyone else is a major development in what will be a revolutionary industry. AI has the potential to change nearly every aspect of our lives, and that’s putting it lightly. With more people researching the technology, we’ll reach that potential sooner rather than later.
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