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3/4/2017 WhyareallmajortechcompaniesopensourcingmajorpartsoftheirAItechnology?


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Why are all major tech companies open sourcing

major parts of their AI technology?




Will Thiel, Analytics Technologist and Virtual Reality Enthusiast

It depends on the type of company, but it usually comes down to some mix of brand, sales,
and recruiting.

Brand. Releasing open-source technological innovations sends a message about a company

- that theyre smart, important, condent, contributors to the community, unique, future-
oriented and deserving of investment, trustworthy partners, etc.. Major open-source
contributions are surere ways to speak at conferences, which builds more brand identity
among the tech elite.

Sales. Often an open-source release is supporting a paid service in the hope that you might
say wow, I love this technology - and that paid service has this technology built in or
something along those lines. Or this technology is great - now Im going to buy a
commercial license to bring it into my product. Alternatively, it might lay the groundwork
for a future paid service - acting as a vector for market research and penetration.

Recruiting. It goes hand-in-hand with brand. Lets say Titan and Monolith are two tech
competitors. But have esteemed AI research groups, but Monoliths open-source AI
platform is regarded as the epitome of free AI tech. Titan has no such platform. Where do
you work?

Companies will claim that theyre just contributing to the community, man, so we might,
like, all learn and grow together. Nope.




RelatedQuestions MoreAnswersBelow






Roman Trusov, Facebook AI Research Intern 2016

Im going to tell you a secret. But you must promise you wont tell anyone. Okay?

While research teams in major tech companies focus on the unsolved scientic problems,
their channels of distribution are the conferences. What do all conferences have?

The deadlines. All those brilliant people struggle to do everything that needs to be done and
submit a well-written paper in time, because theres so much stu to do.

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But more researchers can test more hypotheses, and giving them tools for it makes it easier
to explore moreSearchforquestions,people,andtopics
together. Science is about collaboration, not 1000x returns. SignIn

FAIR could keep Torch for themselves. Google could keep TensorFlow for themselves.
Instead of 8000 people at NIPS 2016 it would be 80, and every single one would be from one
of their teams. How much would they accomplish that way?

At any given moment the accurate number of scientists in the world is not enough.


Christos Nikolaou, MPhil in Computer Science & Machine Learning,

University of Cambridge
There are a few reasons why they want to open source their libraries and their

1. The foresmost reason for me is that many people can use the system that you build
and some of them will provide improvements. If the main team behinf the system
is in you company then the direction will be what you want, while you will have
some testers outside of the company and some contributors as well. It has been
found that open source projects tend to accumulate many work-hours which is
hard to do when the project is kept in-house. Check out OpenHub to nd out
more statistics about open source projects. Open-sourcing a projects mekes it more
mature in the long term.

2. The company still keeps the main workforce that contributes to the project and
they have a major role in managing new contributions. Additionally, it gives them
the chance to nd out if there are other individuals that they might hire or, in
general, collaborate with in the future. This is especially good for the research
community, where the company is one part of that community.

3. Their system gets used by others which helps them to establish future projects and
products against the other companies. It helps them to have a better brand and
others respect them more in that way. Also, their products might be based on that
(mature) software, or even in a better version of it, and this means that these
products will have a better value. In a sense, you can be assured that the product is
based on some stystem that many other people use and so you will not end up
having any unexpected problem or that problem will be xed fast.

Generally, I believe the rst reason is the most important. New features will be added faster,
rarely occuring bugs will be xed and new tests and performance improvements will be
contributed by other people voluntarily.


Joseph Philleo, USC Machine Learning Group

deeplearningweekly.com wrote a great article that, among other things, explains this
phenomenon pretty well (boldface my own):

Now, there are several factors driving this development. The rst wider force driving
this openness is the attempt by each player to commoditize the others advantage,
Google, for instance, has the data and the infrastructure, they can publish their research
and software without endangering their competitive advantage, while making it harder
for the competition to maintain a lead based on proprietary algorithmic advancements.
On the other end of the spectrum there are organizations, like OpenAI, trying to break the
data monopoly and dislodge incumbents by positioning themselves as a non-prot
partner for those like many car companies with lots of data, but no in-house deep
learning expertise.

Secondly, for companies such as Google or Amazon, the software and data sets they
open source is a complement to their cloud computing infrastructure products with
Google oering a convenient way to run your systems with tensorow in the Google
cloud and Amazon likewise expanding AWS to make it simple to run DSSTNE .

Finally, competition for talent has never been ercer, not only among tech giants, but
also between the private sector and academia from which most deep learning researchers
and practitioners hail and in which they are still very much entrenched. The best AI
talent simply wants to collaborate and communicate with the wider community by
being able to openly publish their research. This fact together with the realization that
they might have some catching up to do might be what nally coaxed Apple out its
famous secrecy into opening up their AI research.


Justin Kestelyn, works at Google Cloud Platform

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The machine-learning community, probably because of its deep roots in academia and SignIn
research, is highly collaborative and globally distributed. For this reason, you couldnt ask
for a community that is more appreciative of common open source frameworks that make
collaborative development easier, or that is a better potential source of contributions.

With respect to the companies that developed the original IP, the motives are disparate; Whatarethetopopensourcesoftwareusedbymajor
often internal technology is open sourced for recruiting or even marketing reasons, or companies?

because open collaboration tends to accelerate innovation and maturation.

In the case of Google and its open sourcing of TensorFlow in 2015: its probably fairly
obvious that a proliferation of machine-learning apps, which are hungry for computing Whatisanopensourcealternativetowit.ai?
power and training datato which developers have unsurpassed access through Google
Cloudis a good thing for Google. At the same time, any TensorFlow patches contributed IsHTMLanopensourcetechnology?
by the community are valuable for users as well as for Google (which is itself a TensorFlow
user). So, the rising TensorFlow tide oats all boats.
(My opinion only.)

James Dixon, Creator of Beekeeper Model. Open source coder. Pentaho
founder - open source BI
Its all about money of course. Open sourcing these technologies increases prot. compscimajors?

In general these tools are enabling technologies for those companies. For example IBM is WhatisthestrongestopensourceGoAI?
not in the business of selling AI Algorithms. IBM is in the business of selling solutions to
problems, and AI Algorithms might be one of the technologies used to create the solution. It
makes perfect sense to open source enabling technologies that are a part of what you
actually sell, as the community can help to enhance it and x bugs. This lowers the
maintenance and development costs, and adds more features faster. The company ends up
with better software at a lower cost to use in the products that it sells. Better product =
higher sales. Lower development cost = lower expenses. Prot margin increases.

This same thinking is why technologies such as Hadoop, and Ka a are in open source.


John Ohno, works at Thomson Reuters

Large companies maintain their edge with scale, so releasing the source for most things will
not impact the bottom line (because spinning up comparable scale is not trivial and all
current competitors have comparable equivalent tech already). This is why they dont
*avoid* releasing tech as open source.

As for why they do release their tech as open source, other answers have covered this well,
but I will summarize: a high-quality open source release produces good PR for the team and
the company (insomuch as it shows o the tech to potential recruits and investors, and
gives the appearance of good will to everybody else), and occasionally the community may
provide useful patches.

(We should be careful not to overstate the value of having community contributions,
particularly for large and complex codebases maintained by the company. A messy
codebase, like what most companies have internally, wont attract a community or potential
hires, but will nevertheless seem like a noble sacrice; cleaning up the codebase in order to
go from whats acceptable in industry to whats acceptable in the open source community
can be a major undertaking. Once the source is released, someone needs to be put on
reviewing and approving or denying public patches essentially full-time, and this will
involve identifying patches that would make the code messier or introduce potential legal
problems such as code with an incompatible license or code that introduces potential
liabilities as well as juggling potential conicts with company-internal branches and
plans. If a company is developing something that they plan to patent, or they are publically
traded and are working on a task that if revealed would have an impact on stock value, this
needs to be done on an internal secret branch that patches from the public must not conict
with. Its a big, complex job, and large codebases are hard to write useful and meaningful
patches for, so the amount of value provided by drive-by patches is small, although a few
developers may attach themselves permanently to the community and provide a large
amount of value on occasion. But, patch denials can lead to forks, and once a fork occurs the
benet of public development is opposed even moreso by the cost of merging in potentially
large changes.)


Aditya Upadhyaya, ML and R programming certied Data Science learner.


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Open sourcing ML and AI technologies have several major benets,

Companies like Google, Tesla they all need more and more data. Now letting the world
know about the capability of AI is a part of attracting users to provide more and more data
in one form or another.

To sell products based on AI/ML, market needs to have knowledge and availability and as
the awareness about these technology grows, market grows along with it.

Open sourcing attracts ideas, innovation, new methods of implementation and better
approaches which in turn will be a huge benet for companies.

Open sourcing is also a method of providing details of work, educating and attracting a
larger community of peoples to work on the tool/technology. This helps in keeping
particular tool/technology on top among all available for use.

Hope this helps in getting a clear picture of what it is for companies in open sourcing any


Peter Johnston, I run DataScience Oxford and GDG Oxford (GDG is Google
Developer Group)
Because theyre building platforms, not products. The value of a platform rises
exponentially with the number of users - the sort of numbers a proprietary product gets are
so low they may as well not bother.

The strongest draw, however, is be involved in making this happen. Suddenly numbers go
through the roof. The brand gets the credit for making this happen, even though often all
theyve done is given their name to it.

But it is a big corporations game. Like giving a party when no-one turns up.


Peter Huang, works at Academia Sinica

Many good answers already.

I would like to add only one more point, or make some points more clear.

Sharing codes wont hurt in this stage of AI because the AI today is still immature. We need
more people to jump in the game to make the locomotive move faster. We simply have not
enough AI experts and too big the market to ll. Theres no competition needs to be worry
about before we can convince the customers and the legislators that AI is actually so much
better than human workers that automation is not only inevitable but benecial to the
whole society.

On the area where there are strong competition, such as self-driving system, the core of the
AI is not open sourced (yet).


Claudio Martella, former Ph.D. student at VU University Amsterdam (2011-

I agree with Will Thiels answer with respect to Brand, Sales, and Recruiting, though I do
believe that building a community is still a relevant part of the game, in the same way
Facebook enjoys contributing to many Apache projects in terms of engineering (i.e., people
will build awesome things on their models that they can use).

What I would like to add is a perspective on why its pretty riskless to do so. Most of current
machine learning approaches require (1) massive volumes of data and (2) large-scale
compute resources. This is something only major tech companies can aord, so releasing
their software and part of their IP is not going to push any (small) competitor anywhere. The
fact that most of major tech companies have a pretty dierent data set (i.e., Facebooks data
produced by a Social Networking platform is exactly complementary to what Google has)
still leaves them with a competitive edge with respect to the other tech companies.


Patrik Ek, Framework programmer

There are many good answers, but I would like to add something that no answer have
mentioned so far. Most have probably heard that great discoveries are just the tip of an

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iceberg. However I will tell you why they apply here as well.
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Discoveries does seldom come alone and just being clever is not enough to make something
happen. There is need for lots and lots of people. Also, there is a need to make the
development go their way. Clever people can come up with a lot of good and with the help of
these a lot can be produced. A lot of shiny new features can be invented and implemented.

On the big whole this is not much however. The topic is really hot right now and new
theories and new algorithms are developed everywhere. There is a possibility to keep the
code secret, but in the end it will only result in that they fall behind. The research will
almost with a hundred percent certainty go in another direction leading to that the very
carefully developed algorithms will have trouble tting in with the rest. Further there is no
chance that one single company (no mather how strong they are in the area) will have the
chance to keep up with an open source company in the amount of features they can
implement. Many large companies have tried this and failed miserably. The best way to
improve the framework is to get a lot of users, which will lead to more help with
development, which in turn will lead to even more users.

Apart from this big companies can gain a lot of money on selling courses and stu.


Ryan Kinnear, Canadian student of EE.

Because they want people to work for them without having to pay anything. It also helps
their brand name.

In return, we get professionally maintained tools. Win-win


















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