The potential for artificial intelligence has, for decades, been mostly relegated to the larger-than-life imaginations of Hollywood directors. From Blade Runner to Terminator, it always seems to take place in some distant and dystopian future. And yet, if there's one thing to be learned from Google's recent acquisition of the artificial intelligence startup DeepMind for a reported $400 million, it's that the heyday for this type of technology is not a century or even decades away. It's here.
The global market for artificial intelligence was valued at $900 million in 2013, according to the market research firm Research and Markets. Meanwhile, a study out of Oxford University last year found that in the near future artificially intelligent technology could take over nearly half of all U.S. jobs. It's scary news for some, but it's also a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs innovating in this space. Here are a few emerging applications of artificial intelligence for the real world (fleets of artificially intelligent robots hell bent on destroying the human race, not included):
Understanding Big Data
The big data market has been maturing for years now. There's plenty of technology out there that can crunch the numbers and spit them out in a spreadsheet or chart. The problem is, there's a difference between having the data on hand and truly understanding it. Now, entrepreneurs are beginning to fill that gap with technology that not only synthesizes the data, but interprets it, too. One such company, Chicago-based Narrative Science, has developed a program called Quill that goes so far as to provide users with a written report of the data in story form. In addition to an $11.5 million Series C round it raised last year, Narrative Science is also backed by the CIA's investment arm In-Q-Tel.
Making Smarter Robots
The days of robots performing simple manufacturing tasks manually controlled by humans are far from over, and yet there's a land rush going on among startups vying to build a better robot brain which would allow machines to operate autonomously. There's Baxter, of course, Rethink Robotics' famously friendly-looking research robot, which is already on the market, and can be actually be trained. Others, like Hanson Robotics, have invented remarkably human-like robots, capable of carrying a conversation (albeit a peculiar one) and recalling personal history.
Making Smarter Assistants
Ubiquitous and beloved as Siri is, she's far from perfect. That's why some ambitious entrepreneurs are seeking to build an artificially intelligent assistant that's even better than Siri. Incredible Labs, a Khosla Ventures-backed startup, has already developed Donna, a personal assistant app that not only reminds you when you have an appointment, but tells you when to leave, how to get there, and memorizes your preferences. Taking that a step farther is Jarvis Corp, a startup, which so far, is still in the conceptual phases of building a virtual assistant that can access the Internet and answer questions, but can also act as a control for all the connected devices in a house, and act as an Internet server. Whether Jarvis's creators can deliver on this bold promise, though, still remains to be seen.
Artificial intelligence isn't just for processing requests and synthesizing data anymore. Now, some startups are even developing technology that can understand sentiment, a trend known as affective computing. Beyond Verbal, a Tel Aviv-based startup, for one, uses technology to analyze vocal intonations to determine a person's mood. Affectiva's software accomplishes a similar mission, but by instead monitoring a person's face. The idea is, that by understanding emotions, artificially intelligent technology could predict a person's needs in drastically more human ways.