Artificial Intelligence: Silicon Valley’s Next Frontier

Virtually everywhere you look, Bay Area tech businesses are running into walls. Smartphones were revolutionary and lucrative, but the U.S. market is saturated, and Apple's iPhone sales have fallen for three quarters. The "app economy" has matured, with more people using existing apps than downloading new ones. And Facebook, which has filled users' news feeds with so many ads it can barely add more, is predicting its revenue growth will slump next year.

Silicon Valley needs its next big thing, a focus for the concentrated brain power and innovation infrastructure that have made this region the world leader in transformative technology. Just as the valley's mobile era is peaking, the next frontier of growth and innovation has arrived: It's Siri in an Apple iPhone, Alexa in an Amazon Echo, the software brain in Google's self-driving cars, Amazon's product recommendations and, someday, maybe the robot surgeon that saves your life.

It's artificial intelligence, software that can "learn" and "think," the latest revolution in tech.

"It's going to be embedded in everything," said startup guru Steve Blank, an adjunct professor at Stanford. "We've been talking about artificial intelligence for 30 years, maybe longer, in Silicon Valley. It's only in the last five years, or maybe even the last two years, that this stuff has become useful."

Achievements that were "unthinkable only a few years ago" are being made possible by artificial intelligence, Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog post. "The last 10 years have been about building a world that is mobile-first, turning our phones into remote controls for our lives," Pichai said. "But in the next 10 years, we will shift to a world that is AI-first."

Experts say AI will play an increasingly large role in our lives, transforming how we work, how we live -- and even, perhaps, whether we work or...

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