(WIRED) – DEEP NEURAL NETWORKS are remaking the Internet. Able to learn very human tasks by analyzing vast amounts of digital data, these artificially intelligent systems are injecting online services with a power that just wasn’t viable in years past. They’re identifying faces in photos and recognizing commands spoken into smartphones and translating conversations from one language to another. They’re even helping Google choose its search results. All this we know. But what’s less discussed is how the giants of the Internet go about building these rather remarkable engines of AI.

Part of it is that companies like Google and Facebook pay top dollar for some really smart people. Only a few hundred souls on Earth have the talent and the training needed to really push the state-of-the-art forward, and paying for these top minds is a lot like paying for an NFL quarterback. That’s a bottleneck in the continued progress of artificial intelligence. And it’s not the only one. Even the top researchers can’t build these services without trial and error on an enormous scale. To build a deep neural network that cracks the next big AI problem, researchers must first try countless options that don’t work, running each one across dozens and potentially hundreds of machines.

“It’s almost like being the coach rather than the player,” says Demis Hassabis, co-founder of DeepMind, the Google outfit behind the history-making AI that beat the world’s best Go player. “You’re coaxing these things, rather than directly telling them what to do.”

That’s why many of these companies are now trying to automate this trial and error—or at least part of it. If you automate some of the heavily lifting, the thinking goes, you can more rapidly push the latest machine learning into the hands of rank-and-file engineers—and you can give the top minds more time to focus on bigger ideas and tougher problems. This, in turn, will accelerate the progress of AI inside the Internet apps and services that you and I use every day.

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