During the taping of an MSNBC town hall on jobs with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in San Francisco–it’ll air next Friday-hosts Kara Swisher and Ari Melber introduced a segment on artificial intelligence with a clip of HAL, 2001: A Space Odyssey’s scary-smart computer, and a topical question: In 2018, should people be scared of AI getting out of control and endangering jobs or even humanity?
Pichai prefaced his response by cheerfully pointing out that people are already using AI every day when they translate languages with Google tools or search Google Photos for images of people hugging. But then he turned serious. “AI is one of the most important things humanity is working on,” Pichai said. It’s more profound than electricity or fire.”
“It’s fair to be worried about AI,” he continued. “We don’t want to just be optimistic about it. We want to be thoughtful about it.” But opting out of shaping the future of the technology isn’t an option for U.S. companies, he said: “History shows that countries that pull back don’t do well with the change. You have to harness the change.”
Though both Pichai and Wojcicki were quick to acknowledge that concerns about AI’s downsides are legitimate, Wojcicki said that the more people know about the technology, the less likely they are to fear it. “I’m not personally scared, just to get that out there,” she explained. “…and I think it’s because I have a better understanding of what AI is.”