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MIT Technology Review

An obsession with computer vision shows the lopsided nature of the AI boom

A new report on global AI patents and publications has offered an interesting snapshot of the current boom—including the uneven way it is being commercialized.

Run the numbers: The report (pdf) from the World Intellectual Property Organization shows that since the field of AI was established in the 1950s, 340,000 AI-related inventions have been patented and over 1.6 million scientific papers published. Unsurprisingly, the data shows that interest in AI has exploded in the past five years and that China and the US are dominant in the technology. IBM was the company that owned the most patents.

Tunnel vision: The figures also show the disproportionate attention going to one application of AI. Around 49% of all AI patents relate to computer vision, and that number is growing 24% year on year. This isn’t surprising, given that the recent AI boom has been driven by deep learning, a machine-learning technique that happens to be especially good at image recognition. 

What it means: Together, deep learning and computer vision stand to have a huge impact in many commercial areas: medical imaging, autonomous driving, and surveillance, for instance. But the figures show that AI isn’t transforming every industry.

Bots ahoy: On the other hand, WIPO also found that the largest increase in patents in recent years was related to AI and robotics. This partly reflects the fact that robot makers have become more interested in adding simple intelligence to their machines. But it also hints at how machine learning might revolutionize the way robots learn to do tasks that still have to be done by hand.