Big tech bets billions on machine learning tools

From Tech Crunch:

If it wasn’t obvious already, the competitive landscape in AI — particularly the subfield known as generative AI — is red-hot. And it’s getting hotter. This week, Dropbox launched its first corporate venture fund, Dropbox Ventures, which the company said would focus on startups building AI-powered products that “shape the future of work.” Not to be outdone, AWS debuted a $100 million program to fund generative AI initiatives spearheaded by its partners and customers.

There’s a lot of money being thrown around in the AI space, to be sure. Salesforce Ventures, Salesforce’s VC division, plans to pour $500 million into startups developing generative AI technologies. Workday recently added $250 million to its existing VC fund specifically to back AI and machine learning startups. And Accenture and PwC have announced that they plan to invest $3 billion and $1 billion, respectively, in AI.

But one wonders whether money is the solution to the AI field’s outstanding challenges.

In an enlightening panel during a Bloomberg conference in San Francisco this week, Meredith Whittaker, the president of secure messaging app Signal, made the case that the tech underpinning some of today’s buzziest AI apps is becoming dangerously opaque. She gave an example of someone who walks into a bank and asks for a loan.

That person can be denied for the loan and have “no idea that there’s a system in [the] back probably powered by some Microsoft API that determined, based on scraped social media, that I wasn’t creditworthy,” Whittaker said. “I’m never going to know [because] there’s no mechanism for me to know this.”

It’s not capital that’s the issue. Rather, it’s the current power hierarchy, Whittaker says.

Here are the other AI headlines of note from the past few days:

  • DeepMind’s AI controls robots: DeepMind says that it has developed an AI model, called RoboCat, that can perform a range of tasks across different models of robotic arms. That alone isn’t especially novel. But DeepMind claims that the model is the first to be able to solve and adapt to multiple tasks and do so using different, real-world robots.
  • Robots learn from YouTube: Speaking of robots, CMU Robotics Institute assistant professor Deepak Pathak this week showcased VRB (Vision-Robotics Bridge), an AI system designed to train robotic systems by watching a recording of a human. The robot watches for a few key pieces of information, including contact points and trajectory, and then attempts to execute the task.

Link to the rest at Tech Crunch