• What Google’s New Venture Capital Program Means for Businesses

    Ask people what type of company Google is, you’re likely to hear the word “search” repeated fairly often. Yet that definition became obsolete years ago, when Google began devoting enormous resources to mobile and other emerging technologies.

    With Google’s recent creation of a new venture capital program that’s strictly aimed at artificial intelligence (AI) opportunities, it’s clear that Google isn’t really a search or a mobile company these days, — it’s an “AI first” company. Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently announced that the firm is focused on transitioning from “searching and organizing the world’s information” to “AI and machine learning.”

    It’s a profound shift that underlines the transformational potential of AI — and the myriad opportunities open to organizations that are positioned at the vanguard of these changes.

    Why Google’s new AI investment fund is an important indicator

    After breaking the news that Google will create an AI-only venture capital program in May, the news site Axios noted two key details: This is the first time Google has ever created a technology-specific fund, and the effort will be led by engineers, rather than bankers. This illustrates the critical importance Google places on AI, and the level of expertise needed to compete in the space.

    As part of the program, Google will embed engineers in some of the startups in which it invests. These engineers will offer hands-on advice and mentorship, while Google will also offer tech incubator-type services in some cases. By investing in the most promising AI firms, Google ensures that it has access to (or awareness of) the best technology and the most talented workers in the space.

    The establishment of a new AI-focused fund is part of Google’s larger strategic bet on the future of smart machines. Pichai has noted that the primary shift of the last decade was a move to mobile — essentially “turning our phones into remote controls for our lives.” The next decade, however, will see a world where AI makes computing universally available, whether we are “at home, at work, in the car or on the go.” Pichai believes the way we interact with all of our smart devices will also change profoundly, as these devices become more intelligent. The process will become more seamless, more intuitive, more immersive and vastly more powerful.

    Opportunities created by AI

    While Google new fund is primarily of interest to early-stage AI firms seeking investment, the opportunities generated by the larger shift toward AI are nearly limitless. It’s also important to note that it’s not necessary to have an army of leading AI engineers and a multi-billion dollar budget to incorporate smart machines into a business. Many mid-size firms are using so-called “Lite AI” (think along the lines of virtual assistants) to make their processes more efficient and wow consumers.

    Additionally, the market for AI has become more mature. Recent surveys have shown that nearly three-in-four people understand AI, while only one-in-four are uncomfortable with the technology. This represents a considerable change from just a decade ago.

    Ultimately, AI represents the next great paradigm shift — and Google’s new VC program is just one more example of the importance of the technology.

    The Bottom Line

    Companies without Google’s massive market capitalization and enormous technological reach can still benefit from the shift to AI. Doing so, however, will require the help of highly-skilled workers with the necessary background and expertise to manage the transition

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