As investment in social media levels off, some see artifical intelligence as Silicon Valley’s next big focus.
The new era in Silicon Valley centers on artificial intelligence and robots, a transformation that many believe will have a payoff on the scale of the personal computing industry or the commercial internet, two previous generations that spread computing globally. Computers have begun to speak, listen and see, as well as sprout legs, wings and wheels to move unfettered in the world.
Silicon Valley’s financiers and entrepreneurs are digging into artificial intelligence with remarkable exuberance. The region now has at least 19 companies designing self-driving cars and trucks, up from a handful five years ago. There are also more than a half-dozen types of mobile robots, including robotic bellhops and aerial drones, being commercialized.
Funding in A.I. start-ups has increased more than fourfold to $681 million in 2015, from $145 million in 2011, according to the market research firm CB Insights. The firm estimates that new investments will reach $1.2 billion this year, up 76 percent from last year. By contrast, funding for social media start-ups peaked in 2011 before plunging. That year, venture capital firms made 66 social media deals and pumped in $2.4 billion. So far this year, there have been just 10 social media investments, totaling $6.9 million, according to CB Insights.
“This is at the heart of the region’s culture that goes all the way back to the Gold Rush,” said Paul Saffo, a longtime technology forecaster and a faculty member at Singularity University. “The valley is built on the idea that there is always a way to start over and find a new beginning.”
The valley’s tendency toward reinvention dates back to the region’s initial emergence from the ashes of a deep aerospace industry recession as a consumer-electronics manufacturing center producing memory chips, video games and digital watches in the mid-1970s. A malaise in the personal computing market in the early 1990s was followed by the World Wide Web and the global expansion of the consumer internet.