The artificial intelligence (AI) boom began in earnest in 2012 when Alex Krizhevsky, in collaboration with Ilya Sutskever and Geoffrey Hinton (who was Krizhevsky’s Ph.D. advisor), created AlexNet, which then won the ImageNet Large Scale Visual Recognition Challenge. The goal of that annual competition, which had begun in 1996, was to classify the 1.3 million high-resolution photographs in the ImageNet training set into 1,000 different classes. In other words, to correctly identify a dog and a cat.
AlexNet consisted of a deep learning neural network and was the first entrant to break 75% accuracy in the competition. Perhaps more impressively, it halved the existing error rate on ImageNet visual recognition to 15.3%. It also established, arguably for the first time, that deep learning had substantive real-world capabilities. Among other applications, this paved the way for the visual recognition systems used across industries from agriculture to manufacturing.
This deep learning breakthrough triggered accelerated use of AI. But beyond the unquestioned genius of these and other early practitioners of deep learning, it was the confluence of several major technology trends that boosted AI. The internet, mobile phones and social media led to a data explosion, which is the fuel for AI. Computing continued its metronome-like Moore’s Law advance of doubling performance about every 18 months, enabling the processing of vast amounts of data. The cloud provided ready access to data from anywhere and lowered the cost of large-scale computing. Software advances, largely open-source, led to a flourishing of AI code libraries available to anyone.
The AI gold rush
All of this led to an exponential increase in AI adoption and a gold rush mentality. Research from management consulting firm PwC shows global GDP could be up to 14% higher in 2030 as a result of AI, the equivalent of an additional $15.7 trillion — making it the biggest commercial opportunity in today’s economy. According to Statista, global AI startup company funding has grown exponentially from $670 million in 2011 to $36 billion in 2020. Tortoise Intelligence reported that this more than doubled to $77 billion in 2021. In the past year alone, there have been over 50 million online mentions of AI in news and social media.