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With a combined market capitalization of $2.3 trillion, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft hold the top spots of the "market cap" league table, and dominate many areas of the tech industry to boot. Five years ago, in 2011, only Apple and Microsoft appeared in the "top 10" list, along with IBM (which today sits at position number 32). If a company's market capitalization is an indicator of its future prospects, then we must give some consideration as to what we want these companies to become.

What do we want these companies to do with AI?

In a variety of guises, and through a range of offerings, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft influence business strategies, market opportunities, and human expectations. The global presence and product initiatives of these companies exert huge forces on businesses and institutions, multinational companies, and much of the world's population, so we have to ask ourselves the question: What do we want these companies to become? The answer to this question is likely to shape the decade ahead and impact everything these companies touch, including the world of work and everything we connect to it.

They say empires don't last forever, and the market has certainly witnessed the rise and fall of many tech sector companies over the years, along with a few "unicorns" (tech firms that have yet to come to the stock market but are valued at $1bn-plus) thrown in for good measure. But the new tech giants – Amazon, Google, and Facebook – have continued to grow at an impressive rate, challenging both Apple and Microsoft (a pair of 40-year-old companies that have both managed to reinvent themselves at least a couple of times already during their relatively short existence) at their own game.

Cloud services, custom silicon, and artificial intelligence are the key technologies that will shape the future growth of these five companies over the next 10 years, and although the application of these technologies is likely to come in many shapes and forms, there are sure to be similarities too.

Cloud services are operated from strategically positioned data centers, but much of what makes the cloud actually "work" is located under the sea in the form of cables that are capable of transmitting terabits of data per second. Undoubtedly, the location and routing of this cloud infrastructure will affect the lives of millions of people in the years ahead, just as having access to an electrical socket and telephone line did in the past.

Custom silicon, in the form of chips designed for specific uses, such as machine learning, holographic computing, and specialized computing devices, also features in the strategies of these companies. But it is artificial intelligence, powered by cloud-scale computing and custom silicon chips, that arguably presents the greatest opportunities, and therefore we must ask another important question: What do we want these companies to do with that intelligence?


Further reading

"Facebook goes 'video first' in search of TV ad dollars," ME0002-000691 (August 2016)

Google's MVNO Project Fi: A Step Closer to Launch in Europe, TE0014-000417 (July 2016)

"Facebook CIO says: 'Microsoft got cool again'" IT0021-000183 (July 2016)

Microsoft and Facebook to build the Marea subsea cable, TE0017-000068 (July 2016)

"Google to push AR ambitions with its own smartphone," TE0004-001093 (July 2016)

"Google's latest antipiracy report sparks criticism from music industry," ME0001-000405 (July 2016)

"Apple, Google, and Facebook stake claims for bigger piece of communications services pie," TE0003-000934 (June 2016)

"With its $4.8bn deal for Yahoo, Verizon is gunning for Google and Facebook," ME0002-000689 (July 2016)

"Apple makes its latest move to become the central enabler of the smart home," TE0003-000932 (June 2016)

"DeepMind AlphaGo and general artificial intelligence: are we there yet?" IT0022-000653 (April 2016)

"Apple's results mark the end of the golden smartphone era," TE0004-001079 (April 2016)

"Facebook bets big on bots," ME0002-000664 (April 2016)

"Apple's conflict with the FBI highlights the tension between privacy and security," TE0007-001000 (April 2016)

Google Cloud Platform Gets Ambitious, TE0005-000809 (April 2016)

"Google DeepMind achieves artificial intelligence (AI) milestone," IT0022-000639 (March 2016)

"Facebook at Work stirs Microsoft into action," IT0021-000146 (February 2016)

"Applying artificial intelligence to digital processes," IT0022-000606 (January 2016)

PrimeSense Is the Key to Apple's Long Game in Augmented Reality, ME0002-000637 (January 2016)

"Amazon releases its answer to guided self-service BI," IT0014-003081 (November 2015)

"Apple, Amazon, and the exclusivity paradox," ME0002-000603 (September 2015)

Connecting the Unconnected: Data monetization holds the key to Facebook’s Free Basics initiative, TE0009-001478 (November 2015)

Facebook: Network and Technology Profile, TE0006-001059 (May 2015)


Richard Edwards, Principal Research Analyst, Enterprise Productivity & Mobility

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