Eric Schmidt Dismisses Movie-Driven AI Fears

Eric Schmidt Getty H 2016
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Berggruen Institute

“We’ll make make sure that people know how to turn this stuff off should we get to that point,” the Alphabet exec said, though he wasn’t clear on how.

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google parent company Alphabet, on Monday took to the stage at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity on the French Riviera for a talk on the future of media.

He addressed the future of AI, saying his company will soon be launching an AI that can automatically respond to IM messages, and that several companies will quickly follow with similar tech based on Alphago from Google’s Deepmind project. “The industry is now convulsed in this tech,” said Schmidt.

This “limited intuition” tech — where an AI can do something on an “I just felt” impulse — will take over the assistant space within five years, he predicted.

While Schmidt tried to calm any AI fears stoked by Hollywood — “We've all seen these movies,” he joked — Google has established a policy that its AI will be developed for the benefit of humanity and that there will be systems in place in case anything goes awry. 

AI is fed data to work with humans in an assistant capacity, such as chemistry problems. "To be clear, we’re not talking about consciousness, we’re not talking about souls, we’re not talking about independent creativity," said Schmidt.

The computers will not be clever, and military might is not in the plan.

“We’ll make make sure that people know how to turn this stuff off should we get to that point,” the exec said, though he wasn’t clear on how.

"There are a large number of issues of automation from a military context, and Google has taken a very strong position in not being involved in that. But remember that for every offensive scenario you can think of, you can also think of a defensive scenario that’s just as intelligent," he said. "And remember, these systems learn by training, so the more examples they have, the more they can protect you."

Schmidt also said that the technology of what he called “sophisticated teenage boy games” will drive changes in traditional television as these gamers grow up.

“[They] are essentially combat strategy games, they are so photorealistic that that technology applied to more normal activities among humans and behavior will transform television and advertising,” he said.

“We are going from the static television narrative to something much more interactive, and the graphics improvements are driven largely from this gaming community,” Schmidt continued, predicting that once those gamers grow up they will become the influencers in the TV business.

“Those turn out to be your future viewers,” he said. “If you are not playing in that kind of innovation and partnerships, you’re going to get lost.”

Alphabet’s next big push is for YouTube 360 as OTT becomes more crowded with significant inroads made by SVOD players including Netflix.

“We are just at the beginning of what we can do with video,” said Schmidt. “The next thing is obviously much more dynamic activity with video and eventually AI systems that drive the video into immersive experiences.”

He did not address the political impact of taking away trucking, taxi and Uber jobs with self-driving cars, and assistant level jobs with Google's Alphago in the near future. “There are issues around the economic impact of these things and the job impact,” Schmidt said, but dismissed it as too far in the future.

He said the EU’s backlash against the giant on privacy, antitrust and tax issues has not had an impact on the company or the Google brand, and he deftly avoided questions about the upcoming U.S. election and this week’s Brexit vote.

“I take the position that the complaining and the bitching is largely because people know more of what they see of injustice,” Schmidt said, saying the flow of information has skewed people’s perspective.

“But I see it as good, I think that is transparency, I think that is democracy," he added. "I’m a strong believer that democracies eventually work these things out. The systems will adapt and they will adapt to the new reality.”