By Josie Wales
In a race to corner the artificial intelligence market, the world’s largest tech companies are in a frenzy to buy out smaller AI companies at an alarming rate, heading toward what could potentially be the most dangerous monopoly in history. According to a report by CB Insights updated on October 7, close to 140 private artificial intelligence companies have been consolidated in the last five years.
Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet, is in first place with 11 acquisitions, the most notable being DeepMind Technologies, which Google purchased for $600 million in 2014. The British startup was just four years old at the time of the acquisition and has been used to create free apps with the National Health Service and conserve energy by controlling the air conditioning units at Google’s data centers. DeepMind made headlines in March 2016 when AlphaGo became the first computer program in history to beat a top-level Go player.
Apple, Intel, and Twitter follow closely behind, with Samsung being the newest to jump into the fray after its acquisition of Viv Labs earlier this month.
While consolidation within any emerging market is to be expected, there are serious causes for concern.
Many of the startups being poached by tech giants are only a few years old and have not had a chance to develop before being swallowed by giant corporations with agendas of their own. This will inevitably stunt innovation and limit growth in the industry as startups will have to discard ideas in favor of the acquiring company’s vision.
Further, advancements in AI are occurring at a rapid pace with almost no public scrutiny or discussion in regards to ethics. Google’s ethics board is shrouded in secrecy, with both DeepMind and Google refusing to disclose any details about the members of the board or what is discussed. As Anti-Media reported last week, Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, Google, and Amazon announced the creation of the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society. These companies all have one goal, and that is to make money. In order for people to want to purchase AI products when made available, they first have to trust them.
Right now, not many do — and for good reason. Some of the industry’s biggest names have voiced their concerns over the potential dangers of AI, including Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates. As Hawking put it, “Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last.”
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