Specific vs. General Artificial Intelligence

The most recent episode of the Ezra Klein podcast includes an interview with Google’s head of DeepMind, Demis Hassabis, whose AlphaFold project was able to use artificial intelligence to predict the shape of proteins essential for addressing numerous genetic diseases, drug development, and vaccines.

Before the AlphaFold project, human scientists, after decades of work, had solved around 150,000 proteins. Once AlphaFold got rolling, it solved 200 million protein shapes, nearly all proteins known, in about a year.

I enjoyed the interview because it focused on Artificial Intelligence to solve specific problems (like protein folds) instead of one all-knowing AI that can do anything. At some point in the future, a more generic AI will be useful, but for now, these smaller specific AI projects seem the best path. They can help us solve complex problems while at the same time being constrained to just those problems while we humans figure out the big-picture implications of artificial intelligence.

A Tale of Two Tech Giants

Today we got news of Microsoft adding Split View, Do Not Disturb, smart folders, and more to the most recent version of Microsoft Outlook for iPhone and iPad.

Meanwhile, Google Docs lingers. I continue to be amazed at the impressive attention Microsoft gives to Apple platforms in comparison to Google. Several years ago, I would’ve been shocked by it. These days, I expect it.

This shouldn’t be surprising, given the two companies’ relative positions as the outside platforms. The days of windows versus Mac are officially over. That is not so true on mobile.

Google Docs and the iPad

Today I received a pleasant surprise when Google issued an update to Google Docs and Google Sheets finally enabling split screen.

In this case the “finally” term is merited. Apple first announced split screen in June 2015. It took Google 14 months to update these apps for split screen. I’d love to hear the story behind why it took so long but suspect we never will. During those 14 months, Microsoft Office for iOS got a lot better and I began to seriously question Google’s commitment to iOS.

While it’s nice that these apps support split screen on the iPad Pro, I’m not holding my breath that they’ll be getting lots of attention going forward.

As a writing tool, there isn’t a lot to love about Google Docs. However it does have one advantage … and it’s a big one. Google Documents has is the rock-solid ability for multiple people to access and edit a document simultaneously. While they’ve tried, neither Apple’s Pages nor Microsoft Word come close to matching Google Docs on this feature. Quip was interesting, but they’ve been acquired and Dropbox Paper looks promising, but it is still early days.

If anything, the examples set by Quip and Dropbox Paper is that it is possible for other companies to compete in this collaboration space but Google remains king of this hill. I’m hoping that doesn’t remain the case forever because Google’s been pretty lukewarm about the iPad for the past 14 months or so.