“AI is one of the most important things that humanity is working on. It’s more profound than, I don’t know, electricity or fire,”
Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google.
Prometheus, Ben Franklin….Google???
I was fortunate to be in the audience when Pichai dropped this memorable line while being interviewed alongside YouTube chief Susan Wojcicki for an MSNBC television show, “Revolution: Google and YouTube Changing the World.”
To his credit, Pichai did go on to explain that AI, much like electricity and fire, needs to be harnessed so its power can be used for good, while simultaneously being aware its downsides. This is the “with great power, comes great responsibility” cliche that Spiderman stole from Voltaire that you hear being applied to AI these days.
Being a TV show, the subsequent discussion focused mostly on the potential downsides of AI, mainly significant job losses. Google is one of the leading developers of AI-related technologies, so naturally both Pichai and Wojcicki took the approach that you can’t stop progress. They acknowledged that AI will replace many jobs, and even highly skilled workers will be affected. When pressed on what should be done about that, both said that retraining employees to do new jobs will fall on both the government and employers (Google recently announced a $1 billion retraining program).
I’m not that scared of job loss, at least not in the foreseeable future. Here’s why:
Down the road, there will likely be challenges as AI, robotics and automation become more real and begin to impact the workforce. However, as we are in the beginning stages of AI, there is still some reason for optimism – even when it comes to our jobs. The first successful broad uses of AI will come in the form of assistance for humans. We’ll be able to assign the machines to do the tasks that we don’t like, are bored by, and the stuff we aren’t very good at. As a result, we may even achieve more work-life balance without being completely replaced by smart machines.
The innovations of the last 10-15 years have changed the world. We now have transportation, lodging and our next meal right at our fingertips. But a byproduct of the digital revolution is the inability to truly unplug from our jobs. AI can help reverse this trend, if it is properly harnessed. What if AI and automation can help us get done in eight hours what used to take ten? Most people I know would not mind leaving the office on time, and letting a smart machine handle the most boring and mundane tasks.
“Revolution: Google and YouTube Changing the World” covered more than just AI. It also delved into how immigration policy and gender diversity affect Silicon Valley and the economy at-large. The show premieres Friday, January 26th at 10:00 pm ET on MSNBC.