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Artificial intelligence to transform web: Russian tycoon

The emergence of artificial intelligence will transform the Internet industry and social networking over the next decade, says Russia’s leading web tycoon.

The low-profile Yury Milner is chairman in the rapidly expanding Mail.ru Internet firm and CEO of DST Global investment company who have minority stakes in Facebook and other Western firms. South African-based Naspers is also a shareholder of DST and Mail.ru.

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“I think that in 10 years if you ask a question on a social network and you get an answer you will not know if a computer or a person has answered you,” says Milner.

“When you receive a question, you will not know if it has been asked by a person or an artificial intelligence. And by answering you help the computer create an algorithm.”

Mail.ru, which is part owned by Russian magnate Alisher Usmanov and recently enjoyed a solid IPO in London, has grown into the biggest Internet firm in the Russian-speaking world with stakes in the most prominent portals.

It rose to prominence abroad when it unexpectedly took a 2.4 percent stake in Facebook. DST Global, the investment vehicle, also has an undisclosed stake of its own that unconfirmed reports put at a total holding of 10 percent.

In the interview Milner made no comments on the size of the Facebook stake, or Mail.ru’s holdings in online games portal Zynga and deal-of-the-day website Groupon.

Milner said there had been a revolutionary change in demand for information and now there was “as much information generated in the the last two days as there was in the history of civilisation up to 2003.”

He defended the company’s tight focus on consumer Internet products, and in particular social Internet, saying that “we have chosen a strategy to have a global expertise in a very narrow sector.”

He said that in every Internet sector, there was a tendency for one single firm to become dominant, as with Facebook in social networking in the English-speaking world.

“On the Internet there is a tendency for ‘winner takes all’ and a leader emerges in every niche with surprising consistency,” he says.

“This is the main issue that we look at. When we made our first investment in Facebook, it was not obvious that it was a winner.” – AFP

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