The 2019 State of the Union Address, delivered Feb. 5, was light on anything tech-related. But just a week later, Feb. 11, technology was the focus of an executive order that launched The American Artificial Intelligence (AI) Initiative. Why do we need a national AI initiative, and what does it have to do with DevOps? (Hint: You may need hardware and a hybrid cloud strategy for your AI initiative.)
Investments in AI technology are exploding worldwide. Most analysts believe that while the total number of startups and equity deals to date still favors the United States, China is spawning startups rapidly, thanks to their recent AI initiative. According to just-released data from CB Insights:
“While China accounted for only 10% of global AI deals in 2017, Chinese AI startups took 48% of all AI funding dollars that year, surpassing the US in AI funding for the first time.”
The long tail doesn’t lie. A big global competition here is a good thing, though, and the scoreboard has spurred movement. The American AI Initiative lays out five principles, paraphrased in brief:
- We need to drive technological breakthroughs in AI.
- We need technical standards for development and testing.
- We need workforce training in skills and applications.
- We need to be able to trust AI solutions for privacy.
- We need both open markets and protection for “critical” technologies.
Go, Team America! What, you expected more than motherhood and apple pie out of the White House? I’m not going there. I don’t think any administration could prepare the level of technical insight needed for something of this magnitude. It can, however, lay a course and task agencies for technology plans and funding proposals—and about two-thirds of this executive order is devoted to timelines for those.
Let’s assume this AI initiative comes together with real dollars, and everyone including your competition is at work on AI. You may be thinking, “This is easy. I’m looking at a prominent cloud vendor’s machine learning webpage right now and it says, ‘No machine learning skills required.’ Its solution is based on its libraries of algorithms plus cloud-based workload acceleration hardware.”
If that approach solves your specific problem, that’s great. Many use cases will fit those offerings. However, I’m thinking that a lot of you out there won’t turn over your data and your privacy control to a single vendor. Based on what I’ve seen, while the public cloud may be fast enough for some use cases, it’s woefully non-deterministic for others. You may be able to afford all kinds of time and elastic cloud resources for training, where time may be measured in weeks or months on bigger machine learning data sets.
Real-time inference is a different game. There. Will. Be. Slowness. One missed result can be very costly—ask any autonomous vehicle developer, then look at all the hardware sitting in the trunk. Public cloud solutions are woefully non-deterministic, especially as everyone and their dog starts using them. The CEO of another big cloud vendor just said in an event keynote that most AI solutions will split 40/60 private/public cloud. She went on to say if you’re regulated, it’ll be more like 60/40.
Most current startup investment is headed for AI chips. Machine learning is the ultimate workload optimization problem. By adding compute nodes with clusters of GPUs, FPGAs or dedicated system-on-chip (SoC) designs, inference speed-up is achievable. Whatever approach you chose, you’re probably going to want workload optimization safely in your private cloud instance within a hybrid cloud AI solution.
You’re also going to want control over differentiation of your solution. Open source AI software solutions are great because they handle a fundamental base of value. However, AI-enabled applications are very likely to run into problems at scale. Open source will get you to prototyping quickly. Your innovation will be tested as real-world, real-time issues develop. If you can get a truly differentiated hybrid cloud AI solution that proves to be fast, reliable and secure, you’ll have a huge competitive advantage.
Again, this looks like a perfect job for a DevOps team. Here’s where to start on your AI initiative, in increasing order of difficulty:
- Have someone get familiar with machine learning and AI public cloud solution offerings—those vendors are easily found.
- Also get familiar with open source frameworks such as TensorFlow, Caffe, Cognitive Toolkit, PyTorch, MXnet, DeepLearning4J and others.
- Look at your preferred distributed computing framework for recent innovations in AI workload optimization; for instance, a lot of work is happening around Hadoop and Spark.
- Inventory the problems you think AI might solve in your organization and see how they line up with those potential solutions.
- Experiment and discover where the bottleneck in your preferred algorithms might be; those will be candidates for a hybrid cloud workflow optimized solution.
- If there’s a profound bottleneck, you’ll need to evaluate the best hardware solution, meaning someone on your team (or a consultant) should understand GPU code or FPGA design.
- For the most severe AI challenges, more companies will be considering either off-the-shelf AI chips or custom SoC designs—even companies that have never designed chips.
My point here wasn’t to provide a primer on AI technology; that’s a huge topic. The American AI Initiative is a call that teams need to move on AI now or risk being left behind in the competitive prop wash. You also shouldn’t wait for someone to generate the exact solution you need out in the marketplace. With the feds driving a sea change in AI, investments and technology will be shifting even more rapidly, and it’s best to get in front of it.
For the curious, here’s the entire executive order on the American AI Initiative.
If you’ve started already, how’s your AI initiative going? Are there other areas in AI or machine learning you’re curious about that would be a good topic for future posts? Reach out if you’d like to discuss this.