Early in 2015, artificial-intelligence
researchers at Google created an
obscure piece of software called
TensorFlow. Two years later the tool,
which is used in building machine-learning software, underpins many
future ambitions of Google and its parent company, Alphabet.
TensorFlow makes it much easier
for the company’s engineers to translate new approaches to artificial intelligence into practical code, improving
The company thinks it can wrest the cloud computing
market away from Amazon by helping companies make
use of machine learning.
By Tom Simonite
services such as search and the accuracy of speech recognition. But just months
after TensorFlow was released to Google’s army of coders, the company also
began offering it to the world for free.
That decision could be seen as altruistic or possibly plain dumb, but nearly two
years on, the benefits to Google of its great AI giveaway are increasingly evident.
Today TensorFlow is becoming the clear leader among programmers building new
things with machine learning. “We have significant usage today, and it’s accelerating,” says Jeff Dean, who led TensorFlow’s design and heads Google’s core
artificial-intelligence research group. Once you’ve built something with TensorFlow,
you can run it anywhere—but it’s especially easy to transfer it to Google’s cloud
platform. The software’s popularity is helping Google fight for a bigger share of
the roughly $40 billion (and growing) cloud infrastructure market, where the com-