A recent article in CNNtech highlighted Google's CEO, Sundar Pichai's, thoughts on the current and future implications of artificial intelligence. His outlook stands out as one of the more optimistic ones of the voices who have begun commenting on the field. He goes so far as to claim that "AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on." Wow.
Because I work for an AI company and believe the future of AI is bright, I have therefore been a bit frustrated at some other, more pessimistic forecasts being touted lately by Elon Musk and other prominent public figures. So, while reading, I found myself asking: why is Sundar Pichai so optimistic?
I believe it's contextual. Pichai grew up in Davos, and during the interview featured in the article,
"He described the joy his family experienced when they got their first telephone and how it changed their lives."
Telephones were a disruptive technology when they were introduced in the 1800s. Phones were a strange invention for which normal average people saw no practical application in their own lives. Telephones were meant for businesses, not homes.
But times changed. Technology advanced. And a century later, telephones were ubiquitous. I imagine that Pichai's family was one of the last in his community to install a home telephone. And it changed their lives because it was so simple and so useful.
It's obvious Pichai knows that when technology is applied for a specific purpose for a specific person, it can have amazingly positive and far-reaching effects. The telephone might have been his first lesson in this reality. No doubt the computer, internet, and cell phone were subsequent lessons for him. And now, everyday at Google, he works on creating those a-ha moments for billions of other people, introducing new tech with valuable, life-changing use cases.
And the lesson is no different for AI.
Everyone didn't jump on the Amazon bandwagon overnight. Nor did you use Netflix the day it became a digital service. Over time, though, these products integrated themselves seamlessly into your life. And now, can you imagine your world without them? Probably not.
So, is artificial intelligence as or more profound than electricity or fire? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, I sure as heck agree that it's the most exciting and useful technology we have available to us. What do you think?