Machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities of the sort displayed by Google DeepMind's AlphaGo system, which recently beat one of the world's top professionals at the ancient Chinese game of Go, will play a key role in Google's future.
That's the view of CEO Sundar Pichai, who on April 28 shared the company's high-level vision of the future with stockholders and the general public in a post on Google's official blog.
Usually it is Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin who provide the annual update. But this time, the task was left to Pichai, "since the majority of our big bets are in Google," wrote Page, who is now CEO of Google parent Alphabet, in a brief note prefacing the blog. "I wanted to give him most of the bully-pulpit here to reflect on Google's accomplishments and share his vision."
There was little in Pichai's blog by way of specifics about the company's direction. But it involves machine learning, AI, mobile computing and the cloud.
Much of Google's efforts to make its search and related services more powerful and user-friendly in the years ahead are being driven by the company's investments in AI and machine learning, Pichai said.
These technologies already have been implemented in applications such as voice search, Google Translate and spam filtering. "We've been building the best AI team and tools for years, and recent breakthroughs will allow us to do even more," he said, pointing to AlphaGo as an example of the kind of virtual smarts the company is able to deliver.
Google will parlay its advances in these areas into making its search technology even more sophisticated and responsive than it already is, Pichai said. The goal is to evolve search into more of a smart assistance capability, where users will be able to get help from Google based on context, situation and needs.
"The average parent has different needs than the average college student. Similarly, a user wants different help when in the car versus the living room. Smart assistance should understand all of these things and be helpful at the right time, in the right way," Pichai explained.
Eventually machine learning and AI will help shape the way people accomplish daily tasks, how they travel and tackle bigger challenges, such as cancer diagnosis and climate change, Pichai said. He did not say how Google plans on using AI in these areas, but some current examples, such as Google's work on autonomous vehicles, offer some pointers.
Another major area of investment for Google is the mobile Web, Pichai said. Mobile devices already are a major source of traffic for a majority of Google's Websites and the company has been working on making the use of mobile application a faster and smoother experience for users.
Over the past year, Google has been working with developers, publishers and other stakeholders in the mobile ecosystem on projects such as Accelerated Mobile Pages and Progressive Web Apps, Google's CEO said. Such efforts are geared toward enabling better mobile experience for everyone.
The company has also been working on improving its Chrome browser for mobile devices, which, in the four years since its launch, is now used by 1 billion active mobile users, Pichai claimed.
"Over time, the computer itself—whatever its form factor—will be an intelligent assistant helping you through your day. We will move from mobile first to an AI first world," he said.