Google doubles down on generative AI with reorg

Despite all the apocalyptic warnings, AI development shows no signs of slowing down.

Nick Wood

April 24, 2023

3 Min Read
Google building

Despite all the apocalyptic warnings, AI development shows no signs of slowing down.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Google last week merged two of its AI development units into one bigger one. Called Google DeepMind, it brings together the Brain team from Google Research and DeepMind.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google parent Alphabet said in a statement that the reorganisation aims to accelerate the company’s progress with AI.

“We’ve been an AI-first company since 2016, because we see AI as the most significant way to deliver on our mission. Since then, we’ve used AI to improve many of our core products, from Search, YouTube and Gmail to the incredible camera in Pixel phones. We’ve helped businesses and developers harness the power of AI via Google Cloud, and we’ve shown AI’s potential to address societal issues like health and climate change,” he said.

“Along the way, we’ve been lucky to have two world-class research teams leading the entire industry forward with foundational breakthroughs that have ushered in a new era of AI.”

The logic behind merging the teams appears sound, given the degree of overlap between Google Research and DeepMind.

The latter is entirely focused on AI and its component parts, like machine learning, neuroscience and computing infrastructure etc. It is known by most people for being very good at the Chinese game Go. Google Research meanwhile has a much broader remit that includes education innovation, health and bioscience, quantum computing and so-on. A lot of these topics have more than a tangential relationship to AI. Not only that, but Research also addresses AI head on, covering areas like responsible AI, machine intelligence and perception, and speech processing, among others.

“Combining all this talent into one focused team, backed by the computational resources of Google, will significantly accelerate our progress in AI,” said Pichai.

Google’s announcement suggests it is not about to heed the growing number of calls to slow down, much less pause AI development.

“We live in a time in which AI research and technology is advancing exponentially. In the coming years, AI – and ultimately AGI (artificial general intelligence) – has has the potential to drive one of the greatest social, economic and scientific transformations in history,” said DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis, in a separate statement.

“By creating Google DeepMind, I believe we can get to that future faster. Building ever more capable and general AI, safely and responsibly, demands that we solve some of the hardest scientific and engineering challenges of our time,” he continued. “For that, we need to work with greater speed, stronger collaboration and execution, and to simplify the way we make decisions to focus on achieving the biggest impact.”

Similarly to Google, enterprises don’t seem put off by the recent warnings either.

42% of organisations surveyed by Omdia have earmarked at least $1 million to invest in AI, while 9% plan to plough at least $5 million into it. According to Gartner, AI hype is also helping to fuel public cloud investment, which is predicted to reach almost $600 billion this year.

The excitement generated by Microsoft-backed OpenAI’s ChatGPT over the last six months has prompted a fair few doomsayers to warn that a runaway generative AI could bring about the apocalypse.

While most would agree that AI has the potential to supplant certain professions, disseminate misinformation, and perpetuate prejudice, anyone who has actually had a go with ChatGPT will find that it is a far cry from artificial general intelligence. It is still very much like a search engine insofar as the user already has to have a rough idea of what they want ChatGPT to do when giving it prompts.

However, Google, with its minor reorg, has sent the message that it is determined to overcome AI’s current limitations, and this will do little to ease the mind of anyone worrying about the implications for humanity.

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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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