Netflix’s video algorithms team had developed a number of quality levels, or recipes, as they’re called in the world of video encoding. Each video file on Netflix’s servers was being prepared with these same recipes to make multiple versions necessary to serve users at different speeds. ... Netflix’s service has been dynamically delivering these versions based on a consumer’s bandwidth needs, which is why the quality of a stream occasionally shifts in the middle of a binge-watching session. But across its entire catalog of movies and TV shows, the company has been using the same rules — which didn’t really make sense. ... they decided that each title should get its own set of rules. This allows the company to stream visually simple videos like “My Little Pony” in a 1080p resolution with a bitrate of just 1.5 Mbps. In other words: Even someone with a very slow broadband or mobile internet connection can watch the animated show in full HD quality under the new approach. Previously, the same consumer would have just been able to watch the show with a resolution of 720*480, and still used more data.
Rubin has a theory that humanity is on the cusp of a new computing age. Just as MS-DOS gave way to Macintosh and Windows, which gave way to the web, which gave way to smartphones, he thinks the forces are in place to begin a decades-long transition to the next great platform: artificial intelligence. ... Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have collectively spent billions to fund the development of neural networks that can understand human speech or recognize faces in photos. And over the next decade AI is bound to grow more powerful, capable of tasks we can’t imagine today. Soon, Rubin figures, it will be available as a cloud service, powering thousands of gadgets and machines. Just as practically every device today contains software of some kind, it could soon be nearly impossible to buy a device without some kind of AI inside. It’s hard to imagine precisely what that future will look like, but for a rough idea, think about the difference between your car and a self-driving car; now apply that difference to every object you own. ... Rubin wants Playground to become the factory that creates the standard building blocks—the basic quartermaster’s inventory of components—for the AI-infused future. And he wants to open up this platform of hardware and software tools so that anyone, not just the companies he works with directly, can create an intelligent device. If he’s successful, Playground stands to have the same kind of impact on smart machines that Android had on smartphones, providing the technological infrastructure for thousands of products and giving a generation of entrepreneurs the ability to build a smart drone. ... The fundamental idea, Rubin says, is to create what he calls an idea amplifier—a system that quickly turns concepts into products with maximum impact. ... For AI to reach its true potential, Rubin argues, we need to bring it into the physical world. And the way to do that is to create thousands of devices that pull information from their environment
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