Google Chairman Thinks AI Can Help Solve World's ‘Hard Problems’

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Alphabet Inc.

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Alphabet Inc.

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
  • AI could help with population growth, education, Schmidt says
  • Field getting crowded with Facebook, Microsoft also investing

Google’s chairman thinks artificial intelligence will let scientists solve some of the world’s "hard problems," like population growth, climate change, human development, and education.

Rapid development in the field of AI means the technology can help scientists understand the links between cause and effect by sifting through vast quantities of information, said Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., the holding company that owns Google.  

“AI will play this role to navigate through this and help us.”

It can also aid companies in designing new, personalized systems. In the future, Schmidt would like to see “Eric and Not-Eric,” he said at a conference in New York, where “Eric” is the flesh-and-blood Schmidt and“not-Eric is this digital thing that helps me.”

Hot Field

Google has been one of the most significant corporate backers of AI. It uses the technology for new businesses, like self-driving cars, and to improve existing ones, such as the Android phone operating system or Google’s search engine. But competition is heating up as Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp, International Business Machines Corp., Baidu Inc. and others are also plowing resources into research for the technology.

“The power of AI technology is it can solve problems that scale to the whole planet,” Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s chief technology officer, said at the event.

AI is becoming so influential and important that companies should work together to create standardized approaches, said Schmidt, using similar tools and publishing their research to the academic community. 

‘Profound Promise’

“Every single advance has occurred because smart people got in a room and eventually they standardized approaches” he said. “The promise of this is so profound that we -- Alphabet, Google, whatever our name is at the moment -- are working incredibly hard to advance these platforms.”

Mountain View, California-based Alphabet employs hundreds of people that conduct fundamental research into AI, sponsors numerous academic conferences and publishes its findings throughout the year.  In 2014 it acquired U.K.-based startup DeepMind, which is trying to build machines that can think for themselves. DeepMind now employs more than 150 researchers.

The field of AI feels like the early days of the PC and mobile phone industries, Schmidt said.

There is “a small set of people that understand collectively that when we put all this stuff together we can build platforms that can change the world," he said.

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