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Artificial intelligence: an open source future

(Image credit: Image Credit: Geralt / Pixabay)

Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming everything in our daily lives, from customer experience and healthcare to manufacturing and agriculture. As a result, we’re seeing an exponential growth in AI funding. In fact, in the UK alone investment for AI developers from venture capital increased more than 200 per cent last year. This comes as no surprise when you consider the growing number of AI startups being founded. According to a recent study from Stanford University, in the last 20 years there has been a 14-times increase in the number of AI startups.

At the same time, we’re seeing an increasing number of technology companies invest in AI development. However, what’s really interesting is that these companies - including the likes of Microsoft, Salesforce and Uber - are open sourcing their AI research. This move is already enabling  developers worldwide to create and improve AI & Machine Learning (ML) algorithms faster. As such, open source software has become a fundamental part of enabling fast, reliable, and also secure development in the AI space. So, why all the hype around open source AI? Why are businesses of all sizes, from industry behemoths to startups, embracing open source? And where does the future lie for AI and ML as a result?

Why open source?

One of the first open source projects was introduced by Netscape, which launched its open source Navigator browser in 1998. The aim of the project was to emphasis the business potential of sharing software source code. Since then, there have been many more examples of open source projects across multiple industries and open source software has started to play a significant role in IT development and innovation.  But how does open source facilitate innovation? It’s quite a simple model that has been adopted by scientists for decades. If all researchers kept their methods secret, progress and innovation would occur at a much slower rate. . With developers racing to deliver “the next big thing” and become leaders in AI, secure and easy-to-deploy software frameworks are essential to supporting this.

Unfortunately, AI and ML models are often expensive to develop, and require a large amount of data to build and train algorithms. The growing skills gap also poses a challenge to enterprises. Many businesses are fully invested in developing AI, but are impeded by a lack of AI skills. . According to recent reports, more than 93 per cent of organisations consider AI a key priority - however, more than half of these businesses feel they don’t have the right skills to build successful AI-based technologies. Open source software allows IT teams to access frameworks, data sets, workflows, and software models in the public domain and as such reduces  training costs by giving developers the tools to learn on the job and harness expertise from other peers.

Equally, the open source community offers an extra layer of security by continually monitoring software code for flaws and vulnerabilities. This is especially beneficial during the development stage of new and emerging technologies like AI that are still being figured out.

Key ingredients for AI: trust and openness

Open source allows any developer or IT team to develop technologies more cheaply and quickly, as well as more flexibly and securely. Developing in the open helps accelerate the adoption of numerous frameworks and software solutions through support from a large community of contributors.

So, which  technology companies are already demonstrating a commitment to open source? In recent years, there has been a growing number of technology companies supporting the open source community and making AI and ML frameworks accessible to the wider industry. Google, for example, has played an  active role in the development of AI using open source. It opened up the research of its machine learning framework, Tensorflow, back in 2015. Since then the platform has grown in popularity and is now being used by some of the world’s largest brands including Airbnb, Uber, SAP, eBay and others. Amazon has started opening up its internal machine learning courses to developers in a bid to drive recruitment of the right people and accelerate its machine learning offering. Facebook joined Amazon and Google at the end of last year, making DeepFocus, its AI-powered framework, specifically built for improving virtual reality-based technologies, publically available. With such established tech companies betting so heavily on the ‘openness‘ of AI, it is clear that this will likely remain a major part of the technology’s development over the next few years.

The benefits to the development of AI and machine learning that embracing an open source approach can bring are now well documented. By eradicating potential barriers such as high licensing fees or a skills shortage, developers can focus on the job at hand - developing new and exciting yet secure and easy-to-deploy AI solutions. Will you be next to join the open source AI revolution?

Carmine Rimi, AI Product Manager, Canonical - the company behind Ubuntu