Sundar Pichai, Chief Executive Officer of Alphabet, speaks with Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum, during a session of the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 22, 2020. Picture: REUTERS / DENIS BALIBOUSE
Sundar Pichai, Chief Executive Officer of Alphabet, speaks with Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum, during a session of the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 22, 2020. Picture: REUTERS / DENIS BALIBOUSE

London — Google’s CEO has left no doubt on how important he thinks artificial intelligence (AI) will be to humanity.

“AI is one of the most profound things we’re working on as humanity. It’s more profound than fire or electricity,” Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday.

Alphabet, which owns Google, has had to grapple with its role in the development of AI, including managing employee revolts against its work on the technology for the US government. In 2018, a group of influential software engineers successfully delayed the development of a security feature that would have helped the company win military contracts.

Google has issued a set of AI principles that prohibit weapons work, but doesn’t rule out selling to the military. It has also pledged not to renew its Project Maven contract, which involves using AI to analyse drone footage.

Pichai, who has led Google since 2015, took control of Alphabet after founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped down from day-to-day involvement last month.

“AI is no different from the climate,” Pichai said. “You can’t get safety by having one country or a set of countries working on it. You need a global framework.”

Current frameworks to regulate the technology in the US and Europe are a “great start”, and countries will have to work together on international agreements, similar to the Paris climate accord, to ensure it is developed responsibly, Pichai said.

Pichai stopped by Brussels on his way to Davos, giving a rare public speech, in which he called on regulators to co-ordinate their approaches to artificial intelligence. The EU is set to unveil new rules for AI developers in “high-risk sectors” such as health care and transportation, according to an early draft obtained by Bloomberg.

Technology such as facial recognition can be used for good, such as finding missing people, or have “negative consequences” such as mass surveillance, he said.

Bloomberg 

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