Why Apple Is Watching Google’s AI Progress Carefully

If you see the tech world as a competition between major platforms like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung–as I do–Google made several announcements at its I/O developer conference on Wednesday that could affect the balance of power.

As the maker of the second biggest mobile operating system in the world, Apple may be the company Google’s AI advancements impact the most. Many will be watching to see what sorts of AI capabilities Apple announces at its WWDC developer conference coming up June 5.

In this season of developer conferences (Microsoft’s Build was just last week), it’s become clear that all the companies that make up Big Tech have been working hard to leverage artificial intelligence in their products. More specifically, scientists and engineers at these companies are teaching computers to talk and see, through technologies such as natural-language processing and machine vision.

Many of the things announced here at Google’s conference hit on these dominant AI themes in some way.

Google Lens, for example, brings sight to the Google Assistant service, identifying and analyzing images you snap with a smartphone so that the Assistant can act on the data. Lens can read a restaurant menu written in another language and translate it; the Assistant might then provide example pictures of the food choices. There could be a business here as well as a useful tool: For instance, a restaurant might pay Google for the right to display marketing language around the image of its storefront as seen by Lens. I expect the computer-vision aspect of the Assistant to get far more interesting over time.

Above Avalon analyst Neil Cybart likes the concept but not the use cases Google chose to showcase it. “It’s not enough to just say you can walk around taking pictures of storefronts to get Yelp ratings,” he says. “It’s fair to assume Apple will be playing in this area going forward.”

Google’s Photos app uses AI to pick your best…

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