Google Showcases AI Technologies At I/O Developer Conference

Google's I/O developer conference opened Wednesday with a focus on artificial intelligence as the modality that will power the next generation of its consumer products.

And because innovations Google develops for consumers usually find their way into the enterprise, partners told CRN the products showcased at I/O across various platforms – Android, Chrome, YouTube, Google Home, virtual reality headsets – tease business-grade capabilities they'll be able to introduce to their practices down the road.

The 11th I/O conference, hosted at an amphitheater near Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. campus, highlighted advances that streamline for users the process of interfacing with Google products and platforms, seven of which have more than a billion monthly users.

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai kicked off the morning's keynote by describing to the company's developer community the current evolution in computing as a shift from a "mobile-first to AI-first approach."

"Mobile made us reimagine every product we were working on. Similarly, in an AI-first world, we are rethinking all of our products," Pichai told attendees.

Google is even rethinking its entire computational architecture, the CEO said, building "AI-first data centers."

To power the AI workloads of the future, Pichai announced a new chip called the Cloud TPU.

Last year, Google introduced its Tensor Processing Units – advanced chips customized to excel at machine learning tasks. TPUs are engaged across Google services, from Search to AlphaGo, a product from the DeepMind subsidiary that recently defeated a grandmaster of the notoriously complex Go board game.

Machine learning, however, is comprised of two basic tasks: training and inference. TPUs excel at inference – actually making predictions using established neural networks – but the training part is more computationally intensive.

Cloud TPUs are designed to churn through training tasks. Each chip is capable of 180 trillion floating point operations per second. They're designed to be stacked in pods in data centers, capable of achieving 11.5 petaflops.

"We want Google Cloud to be the best cloud for machine learning," Pichai said. The Cloud TPUs will join TPUs and GPUs in a portfolio of customized hardware that achieves that goal.

Pichai also introduced to unite development of artificial intelligence across the company. The group will focus on applying state-of-the-art research, tools and infrastructure to drive AI throughout the product portfolio. will lead projects, like one in which Google is developing neural networks that design other neural networks, an advanced capability in the realm of possibility thanks to Cloud TPUs, he said. It will apply AI advances to newer, harder problems, such as health care, and to the current portfolio, such as making the flagship Search product more assistive to users.

It will also drive development of computer vision, an underlying capability of several product upgrades revealed at I/O on Wednesday.

The effort to understand and contextualize images is reminiscent of the challenge Google's founders tackled in deciphering text in web pages, Pichai said. A new initiative called Google Lens will disseminate image processing capabilities to Google Photos and other products, he said.

A succession of Google product leaders took the stage after Pichai, each introducing upgrades leveraging AI to better communicate, simplify tasks, share and view content, and integrate those capabilities through APIs.

While they discussed mostly consumer products, Google has been a pioneer in evolving its technology to serve the enterprise, said Aric Bandy, president of Agosto, a Google partner based in Minneapolis, Minn.

Partners keep an eye on I/O with an interest in how technologies introduced at that conference can be applied to solve business problems, Bandy told CRN.

"Over time, they've taken the consumer tech and certainly done some very enterprise-oriented features to make it relevant in the enterprise space," Bandy said.

The reality of our world is the "consumerization of IT," Bandy told CRN. Users are less likely to differentiate devices and services they use at home or on the job.

"We live in a world today that is blurring the line between where the professional world and personal world starts," Bandy said.

A decade ago, Google's consumer legacy was an obstacle for partners. Back then, it was difficult to even get a meeting with a big enterprise customer, and those customers would bat down Google's products for their consumer origins.

The market has changed.

I/O highlighted Google's strong suits – mobile, machine learning and data analytics. Under the leadership of Diane Greene, the Google Cloud business division is commercializing those technologies and delivering them to an increasingly enthusiastic base of business customers.

Products showcased at I/O will follow that course, like computer vision, which has immense potential for commercial applications, he said.

Nicky Parseghian, a practice director at SADA Systems, a Los Angeles-based Google systems integrator, said he watched the keynote from a business partner perspective, and was excited by what he saw.

"We always keep a close eye on these new projects, business units, features, technologies being released," Parseghian said. "We try to envision where it can lead from an enterprise standpoint."

The thrust of the keynote was leveraging machine learning to get information to users faster and more efficiently, either through Assistant, Home, Photos or several other consumer platforms. What Google learns from those efforts will ultimately be of benefit to businesses using its cloud services.

"It really helps us to see where Google is going and how essentially they can leverage all of these technologies to do good from the business standpoint," Parseghian told CRN.