Google CEO Sundar Pichai: AI is more profound than electricity or fire

Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki talked to Recode and MSNBC on Friday

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
January 19, 2018
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We all know that AI is going to change the world. But just how important is it? According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, it might be the most important invention in history. 

On Friday Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki sat onstage in San Francisco with Recode executive editor and co-founder Kara Swisher and MSNBC host Ari Melber in a  town hall called “Revolution: Google and YouTube Changing the World.”

The four touched on a number of topics during their conversation, including the current debate on immigration, how Google will handle free speech among its employees and the way the conversation around sexual harassment needs to change the way Silicon Valley does business.

One of the most interesting areas that was discussed was artificial intelligence and that is where Pichai made his perhaps hyperbolic statement.

"Let's talk about what you're doing in AI, because you do have the most AI-centric company, by far," Swisher said, kicking off the conversation.

"First of all, it's important for people to understand that they use AI today. AI is just making computers more intelligent," he said, noting that people are taking it for granted. When someone wants to use Google to translate a language, or they use Google Photos to find pictures of people hugging, that's all because of AI.

"We don't take just a very positive view of AI. AI is one of the most important things humanity is working on. It's more profound than, I don't know, electricity or fire," said Pichai. 

"Fire?" Swisher interrupted. "Fire's pretty good."

"But it kills people, too. They learned to harness fire for the benefits of humanity, but we have to overcome its downsides, too,” he said, and that's why it important for humanity to use it to solve things, like climate change and curing cancer.

"It's fair to be worried about AI," he said "But we want to be thoughtful about it."

Swisher than asked a pointed question: should companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple be controlling something that, by Pichai's own words, is so important?

Pichai pushed back on that a bit, saying that these companies are not controlling artificial intelligence, and that there is more happening in the space around the globe than people realize. 

"AI is not just being advanced in the U.S. There are world class Chinese and European companies which are advancing AI as well. So it's a global phenomenon, governments are investing in it, the amount of money Google is investing in AI is dwarfed by the amount of money that governments are putting into it. So it's important to understand we're all doing it."

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