Advancements in artificial neural networks are breaking barriers leading to revolutionary mobile and digital experiences such as Augmented Reality and Chatbots. These technologies will have significant impact on business in the coming years as computers get better at understanding us and our environments.
What is neural networks & deep learning?
The first transistor was invented in 1947 and modern computers are made up of billions of these switches that alternate electrical currents to process data. These transistors are organized in a serial fashion with each one having two to three connections to other transistors. Artificial neural networks work more like us and simulate the human brain which is made up of tightly bound neurons that function like transistors except with tens of thousands of connections. Simulated neural networks are designed to mimic this structure but instead of neurons they are made up of many mathematical equations called units that are interconnected to each other. If inputs to each equation reach a certain threshold, the connected units are triggered.
While scientists have been working with simulated neural networks for years, what makes today’s technology different is their ability to learn. Equations in neural networks are weighted so each influences the final output differently. If the output from the network differs from the desired outcome neural networks are able to incorporate feedback to adjust the weight of each unit. This enables these networks to learn. Scientists are also arranging these units into layers so each layer can build on each other.
This approach to processing data is proving to be effective in parsing and understanding human language and identifying images. With computers that are able to see and hear, they will engage us and our environments in new ways.
How are neural networks influencing today’s digital experiences?
Chatbots such as Amazon’s Eco are leveraging neural networks to understand human language and order an Uber car for you or reorder your paper towels with just voice commands. Neural networks are also being used to improve the accuracy of machine vision. This increased precision is taking augmented reality experiences to the next level by enabling AR platforms to better understand the world around us. Instead of only knowing the location of a phone and the direction the camera is pointed, next generation AR apps can recognize features and objects to understand the 3D environment and build experiences that integrate with it.
Who’s Driving these changes?
Global internet companies such as Google and Chinese provider Baidu and Alibaba are investing heavily in enabling developers to create these next generation experiences. Baidu, China’s largest search engine has launched AR platform DuSee and plan on incorporating AR and voice recognition into their search engine. Users will be able to simply point a phones camera at an object and speak a command and get all the info available on the internet about an object. Pointing a camera at a meal and requesting the calorie count is one example. Alibaba is also investing $700 million dollars in Magic leap a next generation AR platform.
Chip manufactures are also designing new chips that will enable neural networks to run locally on devices. This will enable more responsive experiences and support deep learning when an internet connection is not available. With much smarter devices, the implications for the growing IoT market is also far reaching.
What industries are being disrupted first?
Chatbots are already here and Augmented Reality has been around for a while but the experiences are still relatively rudimentary. Investments and breakthroughs in deep learning is accelerating the advancement of these technologies. We expect the retail shopping experience to see more disruption from these improvements than any sector in the near term. Chatbots are already trying and sell us products in our chat apps or via our home automation systems and new AR experiences are helping us find the right products or discover new products where ever we are.
We’ve all been waiting for smarter experiences and perhaps the advancements in deep learning will finally amaze us.