Google APAC CMO Simon Kahn on machine learning, fighting fake news and China as a long process

Simon Kahn discusses Google's commitment to machine learning

Where last year Google’s key message was how it was optimising for its ‘next billion’ customers by growing its investment into APAC, this year it wants to help push the machine learning agenda.

Last week Google APAC chief marketing officer Simon Kahn spoke in front of an audience of British Chamber of Commerce members about this new focus and how it will impact business. In a Q&A session, the marketer also opened up to questions about how AI will impact different parts of life, Google’s stance on fake news, as well as the internet giant’s plans for China.

On the internet of things

According to Kahn, investing heavily in the internet of things (IOT) is just the next step on from being a mobile business.

“We’ve gone from being a mobile-first company to putting a stake in the ground and saying that machine learning, first, is really where we need to be. You can see in dozens of our products that we’re already using it and we’ll continue to optimise this,” he said.

He explained that there are three parts of the business in which machine learning is being focused on. The first is image and voice. He cited the use of both within its Google Translate service, the visual recognition element now uses augmented reality to switch test in images with different languages - helping people to translate signs on the fly, for example. He also said that machine learning had dramatically improved the effectiveness of translate for difficult languages like Chinese. The second area was navigation and space. He said machine learning was helping with its driverless car project Waymo, by helping the cars to learn what sometimes humans don’t look like humans - on Halloween, for example. The final area was around dynamic and predictive responses. He gave the example of the assistant used in its first ever mobile phone Pixel, which learns a user’s preferences.

On talent and APAC investment

Kahn was speaking from Google’s new APAC headquarters in Singapore, which will house the majority of its 1000 staff, part of which is a 500-strong investment into developer talent in Asia.

On working with the Singapore government and investing into Asia, he said: “Singapore is our regional HQ for many reasons that others are; it’s a very open business-friendly environment, it has great infrastructure and the talent base is pretty strong. We can attract throughout the region and the world here, which is a huge opportunity. One thing we are building is engineering presence here. To start with it is talent from Mountain View and other markets but we are working closely with the Government to get people trained and bring them in.”

He discussed some of the principles of the new office space, which has a variety of different types of spaces to work. Kahn explained was so that people could find the places they are most comfortable for different tasks.

On Google in China

“China we have been in and continue to be in. We have an office in Beijing and Shanghai with over 1000 people. It’s primarily B2B work, in which we help Chinese companies that want to buy ad terms in Singapore or Australia. What we are not in is consumer products, such as mobile phones or search. It is an ongoing conversation with business partners and government entities. It’s a long process and we see it as an important market and a great opportunity for us to be useful, but it’s been a long process,” he explained.

On Google’s approach to fake news

While the fake news issue has been a predominantly US and UK issue, and mostly out of Kahn’s remit, he commented on the businesses place within wider industry efforts. “Fake news is a fascinating phenomenon. I used to be involved in politics and fake news has been around for a while. But instead of a flyer stuck on car windows, you now stick it on Facebook for many people to see. The issue that everyone in industry is very focused on is how to curb it while still allowing people to have open information and networks. It is early days but we are very focused on it. One way of tackling it is looking at sites that are purveyors of fake news and basically stopping advertising - cutting off oxygen so that they aren’t making money off it,” he said.

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