Adoption of artificial intelligence has more than doubled in the past five years, and more growth is expected as new models enable a widening variety of tasks.
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In its 2022 Global Survey on AI, McKinsey found that 50% of companies worldwide have adopted artificial intelligence (AI) in some way, compared to just 20% in 2017. Those seeing the highest financial returns on their investments are employing advanced practices such as “foundation” models, machine learning algorithms which can greatly expand the capabilities of AI. Corporate users, developers, and the venture capital firms that back them are enthusiastic about the technology’s far-reaching potential.
According to data firm PitchBook, venture capital firms worldwide invested some $67 billion in AI companies in 2022. The giants of Silicon Valley had a head start. In 2019, Microsoft invested $1 billion in OpenAI, a builder of foundation models which created the now-famous ChatGPT chatbot. Microsoft is believed to be increasing its stake, and Alphabet plans to invest $200 million in rival AI startup Cohere.
Large companies worldwide and well outside the tech sector are eager to recruit AI and machine learning talent. Many are ramping up through a combination of recruitment and acquisition. According to PitchBook data, American firms in the S&P 500 acquired 52 AI startups in the 12 months ending in early December, up from 24 in 2017. The same group of firms posted some 7,000 job ads a month for AI and machine learning experts in the three months to November, notes data provider PredictLeads.
The tech sector is also ahead in putting artificial intelligence to use. Machine learning helped Google grow its online ad business starting in the 2000s. It now uses AI to improve search results and augment Gmail among other things, The Economist reports. Amazon uses AI to manage supply chains and control robots in its warehouses. Likewise Apple, Meta and Microsoft all use AI to enhance their services. Big tech also sells these AI tools to their cloud computing clients. Growth in cloud computing, which lowers the cost of using AI, has helped the technology spread across numerous sectors.
Practical business applications of AI have become so ubiquitous, they have been dubbed “boring AI”, though many argue they are anything but. Ali Ghodsi, CEO of Databricks, which helps customers manage data for AI applications, believes AI will explode in the new few years, making its way into ever more jobs and company functions. One driving force is the proliferation of more versatile foundation models, including generative models capable of generating text, images and other types of data.
Computer programming is a high-growth market for generative AI in the form of virtual assistants that generate lines of code based on prompts. Microsoft’s GitHub Copilot AI tool enables programmers to outsource coding, which the company says can speed up programming by 50%. Amazon launched its own version, CodeWhisperer, in June. Now Microsoft, other tech giants and several startups are developing similar tools for non-programmers. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, “We envision a world where everyone, no matter their profession, can have a Copilot for everything they do.”