Content - Luncheon: Google expects “incredible impact of AI”

  • June 26, 2018

Luncheon: Google expects “incredible impact of AI”

Tokyo (SCCIJ) – At the first of two SCCIJ luncheons in June, Mr. Peter Fitzgerald, President of Google Japan, shared his insights about the way Google sees the digital world shaping up in the future. The focus of his talk was on the potential created by advances in machine learning. This field of computer science commonly called artificial intelligence has been around since the 1970s and 1980s. “And now this is helping to change the world for the better,” the Google Japan president said. The interest in this subject was mirrored in the high luncheon attendance of more than 90 members and guests of the Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan.

SCCIJ June Luncheon

Transformation of Google

Mr. Fitzgerald started his luncheon talk with a quick look at Google’s history. The company, which has its roots in Internet search, doubled down on “mobile-first” a few years back with the proliferation of smartphones globally, and is now focused on building artificial intelligence (AI) for everyone. Thousands of Google’s engineers have gone through a special training to help them better understand the new possibilities of AI. As with search and mobile, Google wants to offer its new capabilities as a public service. “We want to make the benefits of AI accessible to everyone and have made this special training available for free online”, the speaker said. 

Mr. Fitzgerald referred to the computer victory in the game of Go – a game that has more configurations than even a supercomputer could possibly process. “But the difference is: In the past, machines needed to be smart from the start, but today we can teach machines to learn and become smart,” he explained. The huge advances in deep learning were the result of much more powerful computers, better training data, and smarter systems.

SCCIJ June Luncheon speaker Mr. Peter Fitzgerald, President of Google Japan (click to enlarge)

SCCIJ June Luncheon speaker Mr. Peter Fitzgerald, President of Google Japan (click to enlarge)

AI improves Google apps

“In addition, computers are also now able to see, hear and talk”, he said. To illustrate, Mr. Fitzgerald pointed to the Google Photo app. Its algorithm can now recognize persons, objects and situations and sort the pictures accordingly. “You can type ‘dog’ in the app’s search function, and it will only show you pictures with dogs,” he said. AI has also helped improve Google Maps by organizing information collected by Google’s Street View technology. Google Lens, a recent app by Google, uses computer vision, machine learning, the Knowledge Graph, Maps, and information across the web - to help you learn more about the world around you and get things done.

You can hold your phone in front of an object, for example a plant, an animal or a building and it’ll tell you what you see. Another example would be Google Translate. An end-to-end neural net model in Google Translate enables translation quality close to human level in dozens of languages. “We have made more quality improvements in translations in one year than in the 12 years before combined with machine learning”, the speaker reported. “Language barriers are reduced thanks to neural nets,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. 

The whole business of Google would have changed due to the input of AI systems, the speaker claimed. For example, by applying machine learning to Google’s data centers, the company has managed to reduce the amount of energy used for cooling by up to 40%. “This gives you a flavor of how transformational this is,” the Google Japan president said. AI could also help in demand forecasting. Family Mart, a convenience store chain, used Google’s AI technology to reduce the amount of food waste. By taking into account customer data, weather, location and other factors, the amount of discarded rice balls has been reduced. "If you have data about what's happening in the past, you can use machine learning to detect patterns and develop recommendations for the future,” Mr. Fitzgerald explained.

Members and advisors of the SCCIJ Executive Committee with speaker Mr. Fitzgerald (click to enlarge)

Members and advisors of the SCCIJ Executive Committee with speaker Mr. Fitzgerald (click to enlarge)

Pathology as next field

Another field where AI can help solve real world problems is healthcare. Take the example of regular eye screening to prevent diabetic retinopathy. In the past, doctors would have to check many pictures to look for indicators of any illness. Now, machine learning can help doctors pre-sort medical images faster, in particular in places where there's a shortage of doctors. “In the area of breast cancer, we have similar developments”, the speaker said. It’s estimated that one in 12 cases is misdiagnosed. “Machine learning can assist doctors in determining and highlighting areas to look closer at” Mr. Fitzgerald stated. “We are going to see some incredible impact of AI in the area of pathology.” 

In the Q&A part of the luncheon, Mr. Fitzgerald was asked about the future of Google in Japan. “We are here because of so many brilliant minds and so much wonderful talent in Japan,” the Google Japan president said. The company will move from its current location in Roppongi Hills to a new building in Shibuya next year that will allow it to double the size of the team in Japan. “Only 25% of advertising in Japan is digital and only 7% of music is streamed,” he commented on the business potential in Japan. “Japan is slower but when it moves, it moves fast.”  

About the speaker

Mr. Peter Fitzgerald is the President at Google Japan where he oversees every aspect of Google Japan’s business. Before this, he was Country Sales Director for Google UK/EIRE, the biggest market for Google outside the US. He joined Google in 2007. Mr. Fitzgerald is a 16+ year veteran of the e-commerce and digital marketing industry, including an 8-year stint at Amazon where he launched Apparel in the US, ran the UK Marketplace business and was Business Development Director for Europe. Throughout his career he has focused on retailers, technology and e-commerce - working closely with the largest global brands to help them make the most of the web, especially on mobile. He lives in Tokyo with his wife and two sons.


Text and photos: Martin Fritz for SCCIJ

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