Some of Silicon Valley’s top brass have issued warnings about the threat of artificial intelligence, but not everyone is that worried, including Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOGL) Google.
Google AI chief John Giannandrea said people already have enough trouble understanding what the technology is, let alone deciphering the “borderline irresponsible” hype about how it’s a risk to human civilization. AI might one day make computers as smart as humans, but Giannandrea said that danger is overblown. In the near term, it’ll make people’s lives easier.
“I am definitely not worried about the AI apocalypse,” Giannandrea said at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. “I think it’s perfectly reasonable to discuss [the concerns], but what I object to is the belief that it’s inevitable…and I think that if we have better machine intelligence, it need not be scary, it can augment us.”
The comments contrast sharply with those of Tesla Inc. (TSLA) CEO’s Elon Musk, who has quickly become one of Silicon Valley’s most vocal critics of artificial intelligence. For the last several months, Musk has made headlines after calling AI the “scariest problem” that represents a greater threat than North Korea that could lead to World War III. Musk, along with other tech leaders, have also urged the U.S. government to step in and regulate the spread of artificial intelligence, believing it threatens to eliminate jobs en masse.
Giannandrea countered those concerns, however, saying that there’s “no evidence we’re on the cusp” of an imminent AI takeover. At times, he said he’s shied away from using the term artificial intelligence because it can be ambiguous and scary to average people, similar to phrases such as ‘big data.’
“It’s such a broad term and it’s really not well-defined,” he said of AI. “I prefer to use the term machine intelligence, or making machines slightly more intelligent and less dumb.”
Google has good reason to minimize concerns about artificial intelligence. Shortly after CEO Sundar Pichai took the helm in 2015, he declared Google an “AI first” company. From a consumer-facing standpoint, this means Google is trying to use advanced computer science to build features that they find “amazing,” Giannandrea explained. One big way the company has done this is by improving Google Search, he added.
There are also other, bigger developments happening at the company centered around AI, such as Google Assistant, its voice-activated digital assistant that powers the smart speaker Google Home, as well as Google Lens, a technology that brings machine learning and AI capabilities to the smartphone’s camera.
Giannandrea said to expect Google to release more hardware and software centered around AI technology in the future.
“We’re working on a lot of different things,” Giannandrea explained. “I think it’s a shift away from just having all the smarts be on the smartphone into a unit of devices.”