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Expand chart
Data: CB Insights; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Big Tech has snapped up more than 50 AI companies since 2010, carving out another front in the nonstop war among the giants for AI talent, data and ideas.

The big picture: The clamor reflects a scarcity of AI expertise, as we've reported in the past. But it also allows Big Tech companies to reinforce their advantage over the upstarts, each time making it harder for a new entrant to strike gold.

What’s happening: Several of the top AI researchers and most lucrative products at leading tech firms came from acquisitions, according to data compiled by CB Insights.

  • In 2010, Apple purchased Siri, the digital assistant that's become a cornerstone in its phones, tablets, computers and speakers.
  • In 2013, Amazon acquired British tech company Evi, which went on to contribute to its market-leading Alexa assistant.
  • In 2014, Google bought up DeepMind, the pioneering research outfit behind the computers that beat humans at Go. And a 2013 acquisition brought Geoffrey Hinton, the father of deep learning, to Google.

Between the lines: The more these large companies buy up AI talent and software, the larger they expand the buffer between them and everyone else.

  • The acquisitions chart above "is certainly consistent with the theory that Big Tech companies are consolidating to expand their reach, talent pool and market share," says Yoshua Bengio, a prominent AI researcher at the University of Montreal.
  • Frantic company recruiting and acquisitions are just getting started, says Deepashri Varadharajan, lead analyst at CB Insights. "And Big Tech companies that are trillion-dollar conglomerates have an advantage here."

These companies haven't swallowed up the whole AI field. There are still plenty of startups with smart people and innovative products.

  • "The acquisitions reflect the strategic importance of AI — nothing more," says Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for AI, a nonprofit.
  • In December, we reported that 10% of the world's AI talent works at 10 huge companies. That still leaves a long tail of talent to work at smaller shops around the world.

The bottom line: The front-runners' gravitational pull intensifies as they accumulate talent, data and computing power at a scale unattainable for academics or startups, such that the best minds in AI find it increasingly difficult to do boundary-stretching work elsewhere.

Go deeper: An AI feud between corporate research labs and academia (Axios)

Go deeper

19 mins ago - Health

Moderna to file for FDA emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine

Photo illustration by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Moderna announced that it plans to file with the FDA Monday for an emergency use authorization for its coronavirus vaccine, which the company said has an efficacy rate of 94.1%.

Why it matters: Moderna will become the second company to file for a vaccine EUA after Pfizer did the same earlier this month, potentially paving the way for the U.S. to have two COVID-19 vaccines in distribution by the end of the year. The company said its vaccine has a 100% efficacy rate against severe COVID cases.

The social media addiction bubble

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Right now, everyone from Senate leaders to the makers of Netflix's popular "Social Dilemma" is promoting the idea that Facebook is addictive.

Yes, but: Human beings have raised fears about the addictive nature of every new media technology since the 18th century brought us the novel, yet the species has always seemed to recover its balance once the initial infatuation wears off.

Young people's next big COVID test

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Young, healthy people will be at the back of the line for coronavirus vaccines, and they'll have to maintain their sense of urgency as they wait their turn — otherwise, vaccinations won't be as effective in bringing the pandemic to a close.

The big picture: "It’s great young people are anticipating the vaccine," said Jewel Mullen, associate dean for health equity at the University of Texas. But the prospect of that enthusiasm waning is "a cause for concern," she said.

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