Guessing at what users want is so 20th century. Right now, some of the largest tech companies are investing money in machine learning and artificial intelligence so they can predict what their users want -- even before those users know.
This week Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) just purchased DeepMind for at least $400 million, Facebook (NASDAQ: FB ) started its own artificial intelligence division last year and Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN ) is figuring out what you want to buy before you click the order button.
The move toward artificial intelligence
Google may be one of the biggest companies that understands the opportunities in AI. The company combs through massive amounts of webpages to try to bring the most relevant ones to its users. It also uses search, web, email and other web history to serve up ads it thinks users want to see. According to eMarketer, at the end of 2013 Google's worldwide digital ad revenue share was 31.91%. Just for context, Facebook took the No. 2 spot with just 5.64%.
Though Google has been quiet about its purchase of DeepMind, it will likely use the company for better page and ad sorting. It's been speculated that Google will use the company for robotic projects, but Re/code reported that the DeepMind team will report to Google's head of search, Jeff Dean. Although Google is arguably very good at bringing up relevant websites and ads, an artificial intelligence system could take that process to an entirely new level.
The idea behind AI pursuit is to anticipate users' needs. Google already dabbles in this when you start typing in a search and it fills in several options it thinks you want. Imagine Google being able to know exactly what you're looking for based on your Android usage, emails, etc. It sounds a bit intrusive, and it arguably is, but it may be the way Google is looking to stay ahead in the search business.
Bringing AI to the social platform
Facebook's foray into AI came last year as it set up its own internal artificial intelligence division and hired an NYU professor with experience in machine learning. The company's artificial intelligence ambition is not unlike Google's. Facebook has massive amounts of status updates, videos, images and ads on its site and could benefit from smarter ways to sift through and deliver them to its users. The company already uses machine learning to determine what goes into a user's Newsfeed, and depending on who you ask there's a lot of room for improvement.
Facebook CEO Mark Zukerberg has said that one of the company's goals is "to do world-class artificial intelligence research using all of the knowledge that people have shared on Facebook." Obviously, that would eventually entail using the research to deliver more relevant status updates, and ultimately advertising.
Anticipating orders, not taking them
But one the boldest, and possibly creepiest, move into using artificial intelligence right now comes from Amazon.com's patent for anticipatory shipping. Basically the idea is that Amazon would, based on your previous ordering history, know what you want to buy before you actually go to the site and buy it -- and would ship it to you ahead of time. This type of predictive measure would require a system to view and analyze a user's previous buying history, ad interest, and real-time browsing on the site. The goal would be for Amazon to keep its customers from going out and buying an item in store, by sending it to them when they need it.
While the company isn't there right now, and it would take a lot of artificial intelligence and a heck of a lot of trial and error to get there, its clear how this could be beneficial for Amazon. The company is constantly looking for new ways to get goods into the hands of its customers (think drones) in order to keep them from going out to a store and purchasing them. Sending you what you want before you click "buy," may be the best way.
Though these companies are already getting their hands dirty in AI and predictive technology, it's hard to nail down how much value each company could add with the technology – although it's pretty easy to envision the benefits. However, predicting what a user wants before they order it, or adding too much artificial intelligence to a mobile app in order to deliver better ads could make users feel a bit uneasy. Because of this, you can expect all of them to release AI integration cautiously. But make no mistake, artificial intelligence and machine learning will be a big part of how technology companies improve the way they earn their profits in the near future.
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