If that’s an underwhelming punchline, it’s because it’s true. Which is why, if you’re interested in the business of artificial intelligence, you really should read these two stories, each of which takes a different angle on the same topic – the huge growth and corporate presence at the Neural Information Processing Systems
, aka NIPS:
To make a long story short: What was once an academic conference with a few hundred researchers is now an 8,000-person conference that, this year, featured a concert by rapper Flo Rida. The piece from The Economist touches on some attendees’ uneasy feelings about how big and corporate the show has grown, but I think the author nailed reality in the final paragraph:
Among older hands at NIPS, especially those who can remember its origins, there is a sense that the corporate obsession with machine learning will not last. They should not be so sure. The systems being developed are just beginning to be a broadly useful technology, and new algorithms presented at the conference are likely to be adopted rapidly. Powerful computers and large volumes of data lie waiting for exploitation. The world’s most valuable companies have grasped the power of machine learning, and they are unlikely to let go.
You could see this happening even before AI and deep learning were the talk of the town. I remember speaking with folks way
back in 2013 (at the KDD
, or Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining, conference) about how large web companies began wooing researchers years earlier, and were now much more prominent at conferences, both presenting papers and recruiting talent. They were successful on both fronts – and continue to be now that we’ve moved from big data to AI – because they have all the data and access to incredible computing resources.
So, yes: Where there are large gatherings of smart AI researchers, there will also be a large contingent of large companies trying to hire those researchers. And plenty of them will make the plunge in the name of more money, more data, more prestige, more freedom or whatever else the corporate world has to offer.
What is remarkable, however, is how fast AI has caught on and how important seemingly everybody thinks it is/will be. Databases are pretty important last I checked, but I can’t imagine the Very Large Databases conference (I looked, but can’t find stats), which also features lots of cool papers and smart attendees, is nearly as big as NIPS.
It’s also worth noting that the largest AI conferences will likely always be research-oriented, because AI today is rooted in open source and open publication
. If there’s something on which the AI version of Dreamforce or re:Invent will be built, I don’t know what it is (sorry, TensorFlow). Perhaps the good news for me is that I can attend NIPS no problem in 2020, when I’ll be one of 25,000 attendees traversing its new home at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
KubeCon is also happening
The Kubernetes-focused KubeCon
conference is also happening this week and, if it doesn’t already rival NIPS in size, it probably will soon. I’ve written several times this year about the growing reach and influence of the Kubernetes project and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation that hosts it – including here
– so there’s not really a lot more to say. Containers and microservices are here to stay (and probably become ubiquitous) and Kubernetes looks like the de facto platform for managing applications built using these cloud-native architectures.
What will be interesting to watch, however, is: how the dozens of major companies backing Kubernetes and the CNCF will contribute to the project; how they’ll distinguish their products from open source versions and other commercial distros; how the CNCF will manage all the corporate egos and money now pouring into Kubernetes; and, speaking of money, which companies will best monetize Kubernetes.
There were a lot of announcements coming out of KubeCon today, and here are some that caught my eye: