Eric Schmidt: AI Progress Is Just Starting

Eric Schmidt, the newly installed chairman of Alphabet, has written an article for the BBC about how AI technology is just starting and how Google sees its uses.

Larry Loeb, Blogger, Informationweek

September 15, 2015

3 Min Read
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Artificial intelligence (AI) started out as a summer research project about 60 years ago, Alphabet's (née Google) Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt reminds us in an article for the BBC's Intelligent Machines program.

"It's turned out to take a bit longer than one summer," Schmidt notes dryly in the Sept. 12 article for the British broadcaster.

However, Schmidt thinks the "real progress" in AI is just starting. He calls the last 60 years of development a "steady evolution of hard research," all of which led up to the current situation.

Deep learning research, as exemplified by the work of Geoff Hinton, has been going on since the 1980s. However, Hinton was limited in being able to execute his ideas practically by the constraining technology of the 80s.

Google brought Hinton's methods into the 21st century by throwing -- as Schmidt put it -- "an infusion of computing at immense scale, using networks of thousands of computers working together" into the mix. When Hinton's ideas cut errors in the speech recognition of Google Translate app by 25%, Google snapped him and his team up in short order.

They are, no doubt, currently chained to their desks in the basement of Google and located near the oil rigs that pump out all the money.

What's different about Schmidt is that he, along with Google and Alphabet, seem to be embracing AI, when other tech luminaries -- Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking -- have taken the opposite view, almost to the point of being alarmists for a technology that's not even here yet. Or maybe it's because Schmidt sees dollar signs when the other see some combo of Skynet and HAL.

When AI becomes useful in practical matters, it gets utilized more and more. Schmidt thinks that the inflection point of AI use is just about here and that it will take off soon. He thinks that practical things will lead the way in the utilization curve of AI.

Schmidt wants society's use of AI to "keep thinking first and foremost about people's real needs, and the real world we all inhabit."

An expert vacation planner, a supersmart email filter, and music services that predictively analyze what you want to listen to next are the some functions that he sees AI being used for.

AI will be solving practical, everyday problems, and doing well enough at it that AI use will seem the best way to solve such problems.

[Read about Toyota's multi-million dollar investment in AI.]

Of course, he would like to overthrow the entire "taste-making" process at the same time. Curation of content is just "elite tastemakers [picking] the hottest new music." (That's just so 2000, Apple!)

If AI looks at users and does that predictive-analysis magic on what those people want, he calls it "much more democratic."

Not to mention much more connected to Google, so that the AI knows what you listen to.

Knowledge workers might agree with Schmidt. Those workers may even be seeing AI as a job creator.

Others call it a threat to humanity.

Schmidt thinks it will all work out if we keep it real.

About the Author(s)

Larry Loeb

Blogger, Informationweek

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange. His first Mac had 128 KB of memory, which was a big step up from his first 1130, which had 4 KB, as did his first 1401. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

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