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Google CEO: We feel we're ahead of Apple, others in artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence continues to be a game changer for Google— and it's playing to win that game, its chief executive said.

"For us, we definitely see a huge opportunity. We see it as an inflection point," said Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet's core Google division. "We started feeling it about three to four years ago."

Pichai said the fight for AI between Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google isn't quite as vicious as HBO's "Game of Thrones," but could be as heated as, say, an NBA championship.

"We do a variety of bench-marking studies, so we generally feel we are ahead," Pichai said.

He spoke Wednesday from the annual Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, where media and start-ups gather to draw wisdom from the technology industry's hotshot executives.

Pichai is fresh off Google's annual developer conference, where the company announced new products like a virtual reality platform and an artificially intelligent, voice-activated assistant that works across devices like Google Home, as well as new mobile apps. Pichai has been an advocate for artificial intelligence, laying out his vision for an AI-first world in a recent letter.

Google saw immediate, significant steps forward from its work in translation and voice recognition, according to Pichai. Paired with the paradigm of mobile computing, it created a big shift inside Google, he said Wednesday.

"We think of this as building each user their own individual Google," Pichai said. "Google does a lot of things, but if you peel away everything and you distill it, this is the heart of what we do. It's what we are about."

Google's move toward natural language processing comes as searches are increasingly done via voice, Pichai said. As that happens, people will expect machines to understand the context of prior conversations, he said.

Even as voice assistants from different companies take over Google's hallmark focus of typed searches, Pichai said he doesn't see it as a zero-sum game over the next decade.

"It's very early days," Pichai said. "Google Maps wasn't the first maps product to launch. Gmail wasn't the first email product to launch. ... You take a very long-term view, and you invest, and you bring your strengths to it."

Still, Pichai recognized his competitors, too, have strengths. Google's Android mobile platform is an open ecosystem, allowing Google to work with companies like Amazon that may be competitors in other arenas, he said.

"I would love to see users on iOS be able to message users on Android and vice versa," Pichai said. "I think it benefits both of us … hopefully we as an industry head in that direction. So maybe I'm making an ask here: To the extent that the big companies can work together, I think it's good for everyone."

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode's parent Vox Media. Recode and NBC have a content-sharing arrangement.