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I recently read a description of economists attributed to Robert Solow: “There are two kinds of economists: those who look for general results and those who look for illuminating examples.” Maybe this is the divide that separates Artificial Intelligence from cognitive science. AI seeks general results while the latter explains illuminating examples. Google’s recently reported $400 to $500 million acquisition of DeepMind, the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute affiliated company, brings it closer to achieving illuminating examples instead of general results.

DeepMind specializes in an advance form of Machine Learning called Reinforcement Learning. They have effectively developed algorithms to solve high-dimensional uncertain sequential decision-making problems. The more advanced reinforcement learning methods improve mechanisms for knowledge representation, search, and human-level reasoning.  (A paper by the DeepMind founders on reinforcement learning can be found here).

So far the developed methods of Machine Learning and AI have mostly been about the task of prediction. With DeepMind Google gets a reinforcement learning tool deep rooted in behavioral psychology and neuroscience to improve on predicted modeling and provide a solution to reduce the amount of human intervention and enhance decision making.

It can be used with Google’s self-driving cars to improve knowledge of routes. Through high-dimensional sensory inputs like vision and speech; reinforcement learning will improve Google Glass and Google Now and perhaps most fundamentally it will improve how Google delivers adverts to Google users.

The academic research by the DeepMind team is extremely complimentary to Google’s products with experts in machine learning of imagery and robotics and people that have worked or studied with Geoffrey Hinton who recently joined Google on their AI development.

Effectively reinforcement learning algorithms can help people make better decisions, as it will provide users with the best data available.

This acquisition brings Google closer to building a “cybernetic friend” that listens in on your phone conversations, reads your e-mail, and tracks your every move — if you let it, of course — so it can tell you things you want to know even before you ask.

A great move if you ask me, which will considerably enhance Google’s services to its advertisers and users.

Below is an interesting presentation by Demis Hassabis, one of the founders of DeepMind:

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