Google: AI Is Now 'Central' to Our Mission

Google says that artificial intelligence (AI) became central to its business in 2016.

On parent company Alphabet Inc. 's earnings call Thursday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that AI would be crucial to the development of the company in future. "The key trend powering Google today -- machine learning," he said.

"Computing is moving from mobile-first to AI-first ... 2016 was the year that this become central to who we are and how we build," he added.

There have been 350 launches using machine-learning technology from Google in 2016, the CEO says. These are in the areas of search, maps, messaging, Google Play and more. (See Google's AI Software Beats Humans at Writing AI Software, Google Doubles Down on Machine Learning, AI and Google Minds Machine Learning.)

The Google CEO says that its data centers are now running on more than 50% renewable energy and that the data centers will eventually be up to 100% renewable.

Elements of machine learning -- notably with the voice-controlled Google Assistant -- are where Google AI meets the company's hardware business. "For voice, we are thinking about it across for phones, homes, TVs, cars and trying to drive the ecosystem that way," he said. (See Google's New Dream: Pixel, VR & an AI Assistant With Smarts.)

Google introduced its Pixel phone in October 2016, and more recently introduced a virtual reality helmet, WiFi router and voice-enabled assistant called Google Home. The search engine giant didn't provide much detail on sales but the CEO suggested the hardware line will grow.

Pichai stressed that that is still "early days" for voice search. He said that Google is committed to a multi-device, multi-interface world, of which voice is just a part.

Interestingly, Google's ad revenues, and particularly mobile ad revenues, are still the key driver of the company's overall sales. Those ad revenues rose to $22.4 billion in the recent quarter, up from $19 billion in the same period in 2015.

CFO Ruth Porat noted that Google has just started to "scratch the surface" with mobile search, YouTube and automated advertising. CEO Pichai, meanwhile, was asked on the call how voice search could contribute to those ad revenues. He described it as "more of an opportunity than a challenge."

Alphabet reported overall revenues of $26 billion in the quarter ending December 31, 2016, up from $21.3 billion during the same quarter last year. The company's adjusted net income for the fourth quarter was $5.3 billion, up from $4.9 billion in the same period 12 months ago. This relates to earning per share (EPS) of $9.36, compared with $8.67 a year ago.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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