WHEN GOOGLE AND Microsoft boast of their deep investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, they highlight flashy ideas like unbeatable Go players and sociable chatbots. They talk less often about one of the most profitable, and more mundane, uses for recent improvements in machine learning: boosting ad revenue.
AI-powered moonshots like driverless cars and relatable robots will doubtless be lucrative when—or if—they hit the market. There’s a whole lot of money to be made right now by getting fractionally more accurate at predicting your clicks.
Many online ads are only paid for when someone clicks on them, so showing you the right ones translates very directly into revenue. A recent research paper from Microsoft’s Bing search unit notes that “even a 0.1% improvement in our production would yield hundreds of millions of dollars”.